ILLEGAL MIGRATION: THE MIRAGE OF A BETTER LIFE
The crisis of illegal migration of Africans to Europe is an age old problem. Hard as the world seeks to deal with it, the numbers keep soaring and the biting consequences associated with it keep multiplying. Although illegal migrants may be aware of the inherent dangers this rather tortuous journey has in store, the notion that Europe is an El Dorado is enough a motivation. Among several other reasons, the driving force behind this ‘‘deadly voyage’’ is the promise of better lives, conflicts, sheer adventure and most importantly the over-exaggerated stories of returnees from Europe. According to The Economist, over one million immigrants crossed the Mediterranean in 2015. The story of the illegal African immigrant is told below.
These illegal immigrants, most of which are of Sub-Saharan African origin, use several deadly routes. The most widely used route is the Niger-Libya-Italy. Immigrants from Mali use the Mali-Niger-Libya route while those from Congo ply the Congo-Cameroon-Nigeria-Benin-Niger-Libya-Italy. In the case of Liberians, Liberia-Guinea-Mali-Burkina Faso-Niger-Libya-Italy is the course they travel. Ghanaian illegal migrants usually go through Togo to Benin, Niger, Libya and finally end up in Italy. Safe arrival in Europe is, however, not guaranteed. One major point of transit along the journey is the city of Agadez in central Niger. This city has become the de facto ‘‘smuggling capital’’ of Africa. Agadez is the last transit point before Libya. According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), over 170,000 migrants passed through the city of Agadez in 2016 with over 6,000 newcomers arriving every week. Most immigrants exhaust their monies once they get to Agadez and resort to menial jobs to raise money in furtherance of their agenda to get to the land of promise (Europe). Female immigrants are known to take to prostitution in Agadez to make money. The journey from Agadez to the Libyan border usually occurs once in a week; Mondays. Migrants are loaded in the backs of pick-ups while they traverse the dusty desert. Once in Tripoli (Libya), the next target is to cross the Mediterranean to Italy on dreaded rubber dinghies (boats). On the average, an illegal immigrant pays Libyan Dinar equivalent of 500 United States Dollars to be smuggled to Italy (IOM).
Laying on the way of illegal immigrants en route to Europe are loads of nerve-racking and life-threatening occurrences. These dangers are more pronounced in the desert, on the Mediterranean sea and on arrival at the European frontiers. Bandits are the major source of worry for drivers and migrants alike in the desert. The bandits are laws onto themselves. Once in the hand of bandits, migrants and drivers are robbed of all their valuables and money. Armed to the teeth, these bandits visit violence on any attempt to resist their operations leading to bad injuries and death. Women, on the other hand are sexually assaulted. In the views of the Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat (RMMS), more people lose their lives in their attempt to cross the desert than on the Mediterranean, giving in to disease, starvation and dehydration. The number of deaths is impossible to tally. Immigrants that successfully cross the desert arrive in Libya drenched in dust, visibly emaciated and sickly.
The next danger that stares migrants in the face is the journey on the Mediterranean sea. Rubber dinghies, most of which are susceptible to leaking, are loaded with hundreds of migrants, who do not wear lifejackets. Many migrants reportedly die on the sea due to boats sinking, bad weather, starvation etc. Works done by the UNHCR indicate that, more than 11,250 migrants have reportedly died since 2014 attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. The IOM has also said that deaths on the Mediterranean have increased to 2.1 per 100 persons in 2017 from 1.2% in 2016. If these statistics are not harrowing enough to deter people, then they might as well commit suicide.
Once migrants arrive on the borders of Europe (Mainly Italy and Spain), there are dangers that lurk on the way to crossing the borders. With the influx of illegal migrants to Europe, most European countries along the Mediterranean have fortified their borders with 24/7 CCTV cameras and fences laced with razor wires to deter migrants from jumping. Migrants that are ‘lucky’ to jump the fences end up badly injured. The ‘unlucky’ ones that are arrested by border authorities after crossing the fences are pushed back. Push backs however, sharply contravenes UN obligations and EU laws. EU laws on migration clearly state that once migrants touch on EU land, they have a right to legal assistance and interpreter. These laws are unfortunately not applied. Border authorities usually unleash brute force on migrants and push them back.
THE PROMISED LAND
If one is ‘fortunate’ enough to arrive in Europe, having gone through the convoluted journey, achieving the ‘better life’ promise now faces him/her; the reality check begins. With the paucity of skills and proper documentation, most migrants struggle to survive in Europe. Shelter, food, job, security are major concerns. A natural consequence of this is for female migrants to take to prostitution to make ends meet while male immigrants take up not-well-paying jobs as cleaners, car park attendants, among others. If one is lucky to get accommodation, he or she is at the mercy of the landlord. Most landlords take advantage of migrants, knowing they do not have permits to stay and work. If unlucky to secure decent accommodation, migrants turn bridges, parks and gardens, car parks, lorry stations into their homes.
Illegal migration has become an albatross on the neck of the world thus more urgency must be brought to bear on tackling it. Key among the solution is the need for more collaboration between EU and AU in order to nip it in the bud. These collaborations should be in the areas of economic development and security. Also, African countries must make up to the responsibility of providing more economic opportunities to the youth and work to cut down, if not stop, conflicts.
WRITER: JUSTICE KOFI AVEDZI