Migrant crisis: economic prospects in Europe are only part of the story

In October last year, I wrote that although a growing number of African migrants know that their lives are at great risk when they board one of the many makeshift boats destined for Europe, each day that goes by, hundreds of men, women and children from various African nations leave their homelands in an attempt to reach the shores of Europe where they believe life is much better.

In October last year, I wrote that although a growing number of African migrants know that their lives are at great risk when they board one of the many makeshift boats destined for Europe, each day that goes by, hundreds of men, women and children from various African nations leave their homelands in an attempt to reach the shores of Europe where they believe life is much better. 

Most of these people come from countries such as Eritrea, Somalia, Libya, Central African Republic, and Democratic Republic of Congo among others.

But, of course, it is not just the Africans who are in search of this new beginning; Syrians, Afghans, Palestinians, and Yemeni nationals all continue to flee their homelands in search of peace, security, and, it has been argued, economic prosperity.

Incidentally, as I write this piece, there are reports indicating that just a few hours earlier, several migrants from North Africa had reached the safety of an Italian port but, along with them, came reports of those who did not make it.

According to survivors’ accounts, at least 46 of the migrants had drowned when the rubber boat they were aboard deflated and capsized at sea. Only five bodies have been recovered by Italian authorities, which is in addition to over 2,000 migrants who have lost their lives so far this year.

The 46 deceased migrants are the latest victims in a succession of overcrowded boats bringing African migrants to the shores of Europe.

In fact, although it is difficult to estimate the overall number of migrants who have crossed over, several sources estimate that at least 35,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean this year alone, which of course does not include the number of those who go unaccounted.

But what is really driving this crisis to the brink of what it has become today? Tough questions have to be asked; should we believe that these African migrants are risking their lives on a daily basis simply to pursue perceived economic opportunities in Europe?

I personally believe that this is an overly simplified account of the crisis; in fact, I argue that other factors, perhaps even more critical are at play. But what are these factors?

Economic opportunity

Let us begin with the obvious factor that many commentators have unloaded onto us. They argue that migrants crossing over to Europe are doing so simply because of the economic opportunities that European nations present.

Proponents of this reasoning insist that job opportunities, access to education, access to healthcare, access to housing, and access to living stipends are the major pull factors for African migrants and migrants in general.

I cannot argue that this factor does not hold water; however, I find it incredibly difficult to think that an entire family would board a rubber boat to cross the Mediterranean Sea well aware of the consequences that include death. If this factor is behind this crisis in any way, at best, it is a driving factor for only a minority of the migrants.

Fleeing political instability

Political instability, civil wars, and terrorism, in my opinion are the three major factors that have escalated the migrant crisis. Let us begin this argument by looking at some patterns of three countries currently accounting for the majority of migrants crossing over to Europe; Eritrea, Somalia and Syria.

These three countries have in one way or another stagnated in chaos for a number of years now. Somalia, which has had its fair share of the chaos endured decades of fighting between rival militias which culminated in the death of over half a million Somalis who starved due war and famine.

Currently, the insurgency group, Al Shabab, has territorial control in Somalia and this has made matters worse. It has meant that any genuine attempts to overcome decades of chaos are undermined on a daily basis by this group which insists on running the nation their way, which is not necessarily the right way.

Likewise, it is alleged that Eritreans particularly the youth, continue to risk their lives to escape the indefinite military conscription of all men and unmarried women with some as young as 15 years old.

The substitution of formal education with military conscription has robbed many thousands with hope of self-determination. These young Eritreans have grown up witnessing the lives their fathers and brothers have endured, and are increasingly willing to risk their lives for something different.

Equally, the Syrian civil war which began in 2011 and has so far claimed 200,000 lives and displaced nine million others, has fuelled this migrant crisis.

Political instability in this Middle East nation has driven many to the brink of collapse with thousands left to consider crossing the Mediterranean as the best alternative come what may.

Of course, the case for political instability extends further than these three countries. Libya, Nigeria, Mali, DRC, CAR and others have had their fair share of the chaos, and their citizens will continue to respond in equal desperation measures.

If nothing is done about the stability of these countries, sadly, the crisis is only set to continue.

After all, these nations provide no hope for stability, and Europe has unclear plans to continue rescuingthese migrants.

For instance, the UK Junior Foreign Office Minister, Lady Anelay, recently stated that “We do not support planned search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean, “ before adding that doing so created an unintended ‘pull factor’, which in the opinion of the government she represents encourages more dangerous crossings of migrants.

Similarly, although the scope of Europe’s role in the ongoing conflicts in Africa goes beyond the scope of this article, it should be noted that Europe is as much to blame for instigating some of these conflicts in Africa and elsewhere.

junior.mutabazi@yahoo.co.uk

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