Italian coast guards are still fishing out the dead bodies of some of the more than 300 African migrants who died when their fishing boat sank off the coast of Lampedusa last Thursday October 3, 2013.
Latest reports from Italy say the Tunisian captain of the ill-fated boat who was one of the survivors has been arrested and is under investigations for multiple homicide. If convicted, he will spend a long time in prison but this is small punishment for the lives of the hundreds of people who died. The traffickers sending hundreds of Africans to their deaths on rickety boats are still doing brisk business and it is time they are put out of business. More than 10 other boats have arrived in Italy with more migrants travelling in hopes of getting a better life in Europe. More will arrive in the days, weeks, months and years ahead if nothing is done to stop this modern form of human trafficking/slavery.
There is still media interest in this story because this is the highest number of deaths registered in one accident since Africans and other migrants who cannot get regular visas began using the northern African coastline to try to get across to Europe. Very soon, the cameras will roll off and interest in the story will die down.
Following the tragedy, UNHCR officials have called on European leaders to rethink their stringent visa requirements so more people can use legal routes to travel to Europe. French Prime Minister Jean Marc Ayrault has called for an urgent meeting of European leaders to discuss border management issues.
“European political officials must talk, and soon…It’s up to them to meet and find a solution; compassion is not enough,” Ayrault said.
The accident “can only incite our compassion, our solidarity, but beyond words, I think it is important that Europe concerns itself with this particularly dramatic situation,” he added.
Even before European leaders meet to discuss the issue, there is urgent need for the following stake holders to take action or get punished for fuelling the trade in human misery.
Life is hard across Africa, no doubt about that but so too is life in Europe. During the election of the pope early this year, I was in Rome and saw hundreds of Africans who followed the boat trail and now struggle to barely survive in Italy. I met a Senegalese whom I will call Youssouf. He is 40 years old and has been in Italy for the last 10 years. He has a wife and two children back in Senegal and occasionally gets their pictures. He sends money to them every month but Youssouf is living a very hard life. He told me if he could afford an air ticket, he would go back home. His asylum application was rejected so he is now an undocumented migrant. He sells children’s books infront of a supermarket near Vatican City and is always looking out for the police. He flees whenever they arrive.
Not all migrants end up like Youssouf but most do. Not all migrants play the cat and mouse race he needs to do daily to survive. This is the kind of life some of those who died last week would have ended up living. Is it worth it losing your life for this? Before people decide to begin the dangerous desert journey across the Sahara and eventually paying traffickers to cross to Europe on rickety boats, let them think about Youssouf.
America and some European countries will go to war if necessary to protect their citizens. That is why we have governments; to protect the interests of their people. Most of the 53 African countries do not care if their citizens live or die. My Cameroonian passport notes that bearer must “have adequate means at his disposal to cover his expenses abroad and his return journey since Cameroonian consulates are not in a position to cover repatriation costs.”
This is hardly surprising. Government officials in Cameroon do not repatriate Cameroonians because they have an empty treasury. They don’t because they don’t care and because of corruption. After the “big boys” clean the coffers of the country, there is little left for ordinary citizens. The vast majority of people who died last week were Eritreans, Somalis and Ethiopians. I haven’t heard leaders of those country running to the AU to ask for urgent action to stop their nationals and other Africans from undertaking these dangerous adventures.
The AU was complaining recently about the ICC targeting mostly African leaders to judge and Kenya withdrew from the ICC because its president and vice are facing trial there. The AU complained because that involved leaders (themselves). When it concerns to the common man, they are mute. African leaders therefore need to assume their responsibilities, improve their economies so fewer Africans should have reason to try to travel abroad with these tragic consequences.
North African Countries
The death traps called boats that carry migrants sometimes to their deaths leave from North African countries, including Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt. It is time leaders of these countries met to decide on joint action to stop the boats from even leaving their shores. They should close the migrant camps in their backyards. When Somali pirates threatened trade on the high seas, it took time but there are warships patrolling the area now which is why for months on end, you no longer hear about ships being hijacked. There is no reason why some of these patrol ships should not be doing same in northern Africa so they stop those boats from taking off.
Traffickers and Boat Owners
These are the criminals in the chain fuelling the trafficking of desperate Africans. I don’t think it is impossible to identify, arrest and send them to prison. It is good news to hear the captain of the ship that killed migrants last week has been arrested. He should face the long arm of the law. His fellow accomplices in migrant camps across northern Africa should be hunted down and punished for profiting from human mystery.
Until action is taken to target all the above, another tragedy is just waiting to happen.