Africa’s European Tragedy

By Mohamed Ahmed Source: International Business Times

In pursuit of better life, many African and Middle Eastern migrants have decided risk death by crossing the Mediterranean Sea. Fleeing from poverty and war stricken states, many refugees end up in resource stricken refugee camps. However, many others take a different approach: fleeing across the Mediterranean Sea into Europe via Libya. Many refugees spend their life savings in order to cross the Sahara desert on the back of trucks with little food or water. As if that was not punishment enough, the harshest obstacle still lay ahead. Many migrants have perished due to overpopulated, illegal vessels capsizing in the trip across the Sea.

The current political environment in Libya has allowed human smugglers to thrive. Libya was on the brink of democratization in the wake of the Arab Spring, but the opposite occurred. The country turned into a lawless, failed state, ruled by different factions of militia groups fighting for control over resources such as oil and natural gases.

In recent weeks, ISIS executed Ethiopian Christians in Libya, announcing their arrival on Libyan soil and illustrating how far the Libyan government has deteriorated in relevancy. The absence of a functioning government and Libya’s close proximity to Europe has attracted ISIS and other terrorist groups. A systematic failure has provided the environment for human traffickers from Libya into Europe. Furthermore, the smugglers overcrowd unworthy sea vessels for which they charge $400 to $700 per person.

Once in Europe, migrants continue their journey to other European states such as Sweden, Germany, France, Norway, and the United Kingdom amongst others to seek asylum. The original state on which the migrants landed serves as a hub or transit point for most migrants who are looking to settle in stronger European economies than that of Greece, Italy, and Malta.

The international humanitarian community has called for a larger rescue effort from EU legislators. In 2014, about 218,000 people crossed the Mediterranean Sea and 3,500 died. In 2015, the numbers have increased and death tolls have already amounted to 1,600. To make matters worse, the coffers are drying up, budget deficits are increasing, and an immigration crisis is gaining momentum. At the frontlines of the crisis are Italy, Malta and Greece. Each state is going through its own austerity measures and cannot sustain the search and rescue mission on their own. Italy has struggled to come out of the 2008 recession and its resources could not cater to the growing needs of refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea. The waters are difficult to circumvent and rescue efforts were too costly. Consequently, the EU’s navy took over the burden of patrolling the Mediterranean Sea from Italian authorities.

That being said, EU legislators are hesitant to expand rescue efforts due to the complication of each individual EU member states’ immigration policy, making collective action all the more difficult. The 28 states in the European Union fear that increasing rescue efforts may encourage more refugees to come. Also, the sheer size of the patrol area makes it a costly and tedious affair.

Undoubtedly, the crisis is becoming a world issue, with multiple nationals having lost lives in the Mediterranean Sea. Just recently, EU legislators agreed on an emergence summit crisis package, and yet the package only grants 5,000 resettlement places across Europe. The rest are set to be sent back to their place of origin, in what EU legislators call “irregular migrants” under a new rapid return program enforced by EU’s border agency, known as Frontex. The legality of this program has yet to be examined, as international law dictates whether or not an asylum seeker should be granted or denied asylum in a state.

Ultimately, if the matter at hand is to be dealt with effectively and efficiently, there needs to be coordination between the European Union, United Nations, and African Union to combat this issue on multiple frontlines. First, Libya must be become a functioning state that enforces rule of law and deals with the smugglers benefitting from this unconventional venture. Secondly, the African Union along with European Union and United Nations should look for ways to improve the lives of the largely young African and Middle Eastern populace in specific states. Indeed, the issue at hand would subside if policy makers adopted initiatives to create jobs and opportunities for the millennial. Dealing with the underlying domestic issues may combat or avert the crisis more effectively in the future, rather than taking a strict stance against migrants.