Copyleft artwork by Brazilian cartoonist Latuff.
English Section 23/05/2015

Another Mediterranean tragedy

What the European Union can do is to deploy a research team to find the endemic causes of migration, so that with a substantial cooperation among all the parties a concrete program will be proposed and eventually implemented.
Despina Vadouridou
On April 19th, 2015, Italy captured once again the international headlines when an immigrant boat sunk off its coast, recording more than 800 deaths. This day will remain in history as the deadliest tragedy in the Mediterranean Sea within a single day, raising the death toll up to 30 times higher than last year according to the International Organization of Migration (IOM). The huge number of deaths in this tragic event reflects the massive increase of asylum seekers, refugees and migrants coming from Sub-Saharan Africa and MENA countries, in a large part due to conflicts and wars in their homelands.

Migrants have to endure perilous conditions, starvation and thirst before making their way to the European coast – that is believed to be the ‘most lethal route in the world’ ; a fact that deteriorate further their physical and health conditions and thus their survival probabilities. IOM's Director General William Lacy Swing stated that “The numbers dying off Europe's coasts are shocking and unacceptable. These are women, children and men who only hope for a more dignified life. The risks they take reflect their desperation and we cannot keep abandoning them to their fate.”

Who is to blame?

The Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime estimates that more than 80 percent of the illegal passage through maritime routes is promoted and facilitated by smugglers and criminal groups who are paid from the desperate immigrants in order to flee from warzones, seek for a better future and live with dignity. The business operations of those smugglers connect local groups with transnational operations comprehending a range of services such as the provision of fraudulent identification documents, temporary settlements, transportation and the corruption of local police and border officials.

Migrant smuggling often entails human trafficking around the mere principle of demand/supply through which the poor and vulnerable population is forced to submit to the requests of the traffickers enriching their labor pool. The weak economic power and desperation to quickly reach their destinations make migrants victims of abuses, violence (sexual, verbal and physical), forced labor, exploitation and extortion. In the past years the passage was made by locals with special skills or contacts acting alone. It is only recently that those illegal activities became more sophisticated, organized and evolved into professional networks; for this reason a comprehensive response is essential.

A European action plan

Following the continuously growing number of irregular migrants and their frequent failed attempts to reach the Mediterranean shores resulting in humanitarian crises, the EU ministers were put under pressure to take further steps to prevent similar catastrophes in the future. After the unsuccessful attempt to maintain the Mare Nostrum operation of searching and rescuing in the sea, and since Frontex’s Operation Triton is limited to act on the Italian coast only, the EU decided to address the problem from the other shore, namely it aims to destroy vessels used by human traffickers, using military force.

However, this new EU migration plan adopted by Foreign and Interior ministers is rather a long and unfruitful rhetoric, lacking of substance. One should not forget that immigrants are people, like us, like everybody, with the same needs, desires and rights. Sending them back to their countries of origins or destroying the boats that are carrying them to the European coasts, so that deaths in the Mediterranean Sea will be away from the public spotlight, is not a solution; actually it is a ephemeral turning a blind eye on the real problem.

The solution lies on our mentalities and on their realities. If we take into account the responsibility that both sides hold, thousands of lives can be saved. Hiding behind attention-caching, big-worded announcements and action plans it falls behind the ambitious response aspiring at the equal opportunities and respect of human rights that EU is believe to advocate. Mass killings should be dealt with a partnership and coordination of both Europe and Africa. The solutions to the problem cannot be limited to the Italian border control but it needs a regional cooperation with governments addressing the root causes of mass migration. It may be a Mediterranean tragedy but the problem should be dealt from the inside.

A more deep, detailed and organized research is thus needed in the countries of origins of migrants. What the European Union can do is to deploy a research team to find the endemic causes of migration, so that with a substantial cooperation among all the parties a concrete program will be proposed and eventually implemented. It might seem too idealistic to combat the complex problems of the world but it can be the beginning of a fairer world, where people are not forced to leave their homes because of extreme poverty, wars and conflicts.
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