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Migrant crisis: Africa in eye of the storm

Migrant crisis: Africa in eye of the storm

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Emma Emeozor

Europe’s far right groups may have thrown a challenge to African governments as they mobilise to halt the influx of migrants into the region.

The recent decision by Italy’s new government to refuse a migrant ship entry into its port was an offshoot of the wave of nationalism that is sweeping across Europe. The action was a clear message that the days of ‘mercy’ were over for African migrants who use Italy as landing destination. But more importantly, it was a message to African governments to take more seriously the socioeconomic development of their respective countries.

The logic behind the anti-migrant campaign is that it would reduce the pressure on the region’s economy and open up more job opportunities for the unemployed. Also, the anti-migrant campaigners say migrants constitute a social nuisance. They have argued that migrants promote crime, drug peddling, money laundering and fraud, to mention but a few. The irony of the situation is that they never highlight the positive contributions of migrants to the development and growth of Europe’s economy.

A report by United States-based Pew Research Center said the population of sub- Saharan migrants has been boosted by the influx of nearly one million asylum seekers between 2010 and 2017. The figure does not include Africans who moved to European countries as international students, the reports said, adding that, in 2017, about 420,000 more sub-Saharan Africans lived in Europe than in 2010. Still, there are undocumented migrants who sneaked into Europe undetected.

The migrant crisis has been a worrisome issue over the years. Reports on migrants are always ugly tales. A recent report said “the number of migrants who died crossing the Mediterranean Sea surpassed 3,000 for the fourth year in a row.” This was in spite of “an overall drop in the number of refugees making the journey.”

According to records of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), more than 33,000 migrants have died at sea trying to enter Europe since 2000. The dead include young men, women and children. In 2017 alone, more than 3,100 migrants died. An alarming twist in the plight of migrants was uncovered recently. In Libya, which is a hot spot for migrants, they are sold into slavery by people smuggling syndicates. Their handlers torture and rape them at will.

As part of measures to stem the flow of migrants into Italy, the interior minister/deputy prime minister has called for the creation of “reception and identification centres” to be located in Libya, Mali, Chad, Niger and Sudan.

To what extent the creation of such centres will help to address the problem is a subject of debate. But are African countries ready for such tasks? Already, the Moroccan government has rejected the creation of migrant camps in the country. Similarly, the internationally recognised government in Libya has rejected the move. Interior Minister Ahmed Maiteeg told Italy that his government “completely rejects any camps in Libya.” Apparently, Morocco and Libya are mindful of the physical and financial commitment involve. Italy may make promises of assistance that at the end of the day it may not fulfill. Italy may have to consider another option, if it insists on maintaining its aggressive anti-migrant stance.

In recent years, some European governments have made overtures to African countries on how to assist them to curtail the influx of migrants into their countries. For example, Germany has said it would offer grants to set up projects that would create jobs. Berlin also said it was ready to offer resettlement fund to African migrants willing to return to their home countries. Yet, Africans have continued to flee the continent, risking their lives crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

In addition to the bilateral talks between European governments and their African counterparts, there had been high level talks between the European Union (EU) and the African Union (AU), leading to the set up of the EU-AU-UN joint task force “with the aim to save and protect migrants and refugees along the Central Mediterranean route and in particular inside Libya.”

It is worrisome that a series of inter and intra-government meetings on how to address the problem has not yielded the desired result. Rather, there has arisen an embarrassing scenario where ships and boats carrying African migrants are being blocked at sea from landing as was the case of Italy’s inhuman action. But for the intervention of Spain that allowed the ship to dock in its port, the migrants were already on the line.

African countries must not take for granted the raging debate in Europe and America over migrants. The anti-migrant campaigners are daily gaining ground. The implication of their gains is that migrants, especially those of African descent, are becoming subjects of unwholesome attacks. Indeed, in some places, they are treated as outcasts. They are victims of racism.

African leaders must take the challenge posed by Italy with all the seriousness it deserves and begin to examine the critical factors that compel Africans to risk their lives in search of greener pastures in Europe and America. Enough of the rhetoric!

It is a disturbing phenomenon that in the 21st century, Africa is the most backward continent in the world. This even as it is home to abundant human and natural resources. Countries of the continent had in the past offered support to countries in Asia. Ironically, these countries have grown to become known as ‘Asian Tigers’ because of their strides in socio-economic development.

Certainly, the gods are not to blame. Rather, the political leaders must take responsibility for the appalling state of the continent. Lack of good governance has made African countries a laughing stock in the comity of nations. The continent needs courageous and visionary leaders who can plan for the rainy day; statesmen who can shun corruption, nepotism, ethnicity, wars, conflicts and all vices that retard society.

Though some governments took measures to repatriate and rehabilitate their citizens who faced inhuman treatment in Libya recently, the magnitude of the problem calls for a more decisive approach.

That approach entails a review of development policies. Poverty, unemployment, lack of infrastructures, lack of social welfare programmes, poor educational system to mention but a few are not adequately ad- dressed by political leaders. The number of migrants fleeing the continent will reduce drastically, if people have assured means of livelihood after all.

It is embarrassing for African leaders to continue to look to Europe and America for aid even as it has become clear that ‘aid’ is not free. Put differently, there are commensurate returns for every form of aid African countries receive from donor countries. And for how long will this continue?

When African leaders hail the ‘Asian Tigers’ and even look to them for support, they should also ask, how did they overcome their shortcomings and achieve socio-economic development?

Europe and America must also share the blame for Africa’s underdevelopment and the consequent migrant crisis. It has been acknowledged in several fora that African countries only attained political independence and that they lack economic independence. This is true. Former colonial masters are not sincere in their dealings with African countries. They do everything possible to browbeat African leaders into carrying out their will.

Decades after colonialism, the former colonial masters and their allies have continued to rape the continent even as they claim to be supporting its development process.

How can the continent develop when it remains an exporter of raw materials, which are turned into manufactured products and exported back at exorbitant price? How can the continent develop when the policies of the governments are remotely controlled by Europe and America with the aim of protecting their ‘hidden’ interests? How will the continent develop when Europe and America are safe havens for corrupt politicians and their stolen wealth? How can the continent develop when Europe and America use visa lottery to entice the best hands to abandon the continent?

How will the continent develop and meet the needs of its teeming population when Europe and America have turned it to a dumping ground for their excess production, including toxic waste?

Why do Europe and America not advertise visa lotteries for mad men, the disabled community, septuagenarians and octogenarians in Africa? The reason is obvious, they are not useful to their economy.

Europe and America have contributed to the political instability in the continent through various means, which include instigating the opposition against governments, depending on the interest in question.

Rather than creating “reception and identification centres” in hotspots for migrants, Italy and indeed Europe should consider a programme of technology transfer through education of Africans inside their home countries.

Instead of exporting to Africa, the plants should be installed in African countries to manufacture goods for export to Europe. Africans should be taught the technical know-how to turn raw materials into finished products ready for consumption and export. This will create not only jobs but also self sufficiency that will help to curtail the influx of African migrants to Europe.

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