The tragedy of African migration

The African Union (AU) should pay a deeper attention to the root causes of irregular migration, which includes violent conflicts, lack of social security in the midst of plenty, violation of land rights, barriers to education, poverty, unemployment and human rights abuses particularly of socioeconomic rights. We should encourage open border regimes across the continent to improve trade and investment relations that will drive growth and development.

Every year thousands of desperate young Africans decide to brave the seas in fragile small boats in search of a better life in Europe. They travel from the poverty-stricken purgatory village life of Africa to hell of high sea between Africa and Europe. Most times, they die unnoticed and undocumented. But the reoccurring Lampedusa small boat disasters has received considerable international attention and eliciting widespread emotional interest because they occurred in quick successions claiming over estimated 339 lives in October 2013 of Africans fleeing to Europe in search of better livelihood. Indeed, a tragedy needs media attention at home and abroad!

This article outlines the some of the issues and concrete solutions to reverse the trends of innocent people dying yearly in an attempt to cross the sea of no return to Canary Islands, Spain, Italy and other European countries to seek asylum. The real tragedy of most African migrants is that they are kidnapped, raped and sometimes out rightly killed by smugglers.

The phenomenon of people migrating in search of safer and more prosperous living conditions is as old as man and the right of any person to leave any country is enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, the right of people to move freely is thwarted by migration and border controls of receiving countries, especially in Europe with its strict immigrations laws, hence most young African resort to illegal means.

In recent years, clandestine movement of people from Africa to Europe is essentially through trafficking and smuggling. Most illegal migrants borrow money from friends and family to pay smugglers prior to their departure and repaying these debts become difficult if they cannot get to Europe. Italy, Spain, Tenerife and Canary Island are the popular destinations for those prepared to chance a sea – crossing. The question is why do most young people decides to leave.

Of course, we should understand why they put their lives at risk in such a manner. Most migrants, lured by the prospect of a better future, go to Europe to work to help families back home. Most of the times they do menial jobs that the Europeans refuse to do. Despite repeated rhetoric of good governance, the jobs never really materialize in the various countries in Africa. I think, as Africans, we share the responsibility for the sorry state of the African migration problem. Multinational bodies such as the toothless Africa Union (AU), the World Bank and its so – called development partners, who pressed upon us successive structural adjustment programmes that have practically brought the African continent to its knees, also must share in the blame and partake in reversing the trend.

One of the major challenges of international migration is the selective migration policy of picking and choosing the best and the brightest, particularly those that have knowledge and expertise, which Africa needs. When this happens, the development of Africa will continue to suffer. This unwholesome practice over the years has simply affected those that do not have requisite skills and cannot get visas; they then embark on boat journeys, storming the waves at great risk. Even those that have genuine desires to travel through regular means are also denied visas, thereby encouraging smuggling and clandestine movements!

As earlier highlighted, people should travel wherever and whenever they wish. However, sadly, Africa leaders operate open – door labour migration from the West and Asia to all kinds of charlatans in the name of foreign direct investment (FDI) who come to exploit us without creating jobs for the local teeming population. The Africa Union through its leadership must encourage Europe and Asia to open its border to allow Africans to emigrate to work in their countries to balance the development equation in the age of globalisation. The door of regular and labour migration even if it is to sweep the street and clear refuse must be opened wide!

From human rights perspective, illegal migrations, and indeed trafficking, are inherently risky ventures of the danger and threat to the human person and loved ones. There is no doubt that governments throughout the world now view human trafficking and smuggling as organised crime. Therefore, efforts must be made to sanction perpetrators of such horrendous crimes and governments at national and community levels should focus on the organised networks to forestall recruitment of African youths for journeys of no return. It is also important that as people we should understand the intersections between poverty, illiteracy and vulnerability to irregular movements. The disadvantaged groups are also always prone to criminality.

The African Union should pay a deeper attention to the root causes of irregular migration, which includes violent conflicts, lack of social security in the midst of plenty, violation of land rights, barriers to education, poverty, unemployment and human rights abuses particularly of socioeconomic rights. We should encourage open border regimes across the continent to improve trade and investment relations that will drive growth and development. The AU should also ensure that adequate resources are allocated to education rather than political opportunism that has characterised the union in last 50 years of existence. Youth and adult education and vocational training need to be integrated into migration norms and protocols for safe migration within Africa and beyond.

In addition, African leaders should also take a second look at globalisation and its negative impact on African women and girls, most especially with the feminization of poverty that encourages international illicit sex trafficking and the exploitation of African women in the globalised world. It remains to be seen how much sweeping changes in policy will influence irregular movements to Lampedusa. Let stop the massacre!


Written by Samuel Orovwuje