Monday, October 7, 2013 at 5:17 AM

Lampedusa Tragedy Highlights Europe’s ‘Haitian’ Problem

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

There’s no denying that America has an arbitrary, even mercenary, immigration policy (which, for example, grants Cuban migrants an EZ pass but repatriates Haitian migrants summarily). Yet, compared with that of other countries, America has by far the most inviting and humane policy of them all.

This fact is finally coming into stark relief for Europeans who once chided Americans with righteous indignation for their treatment of [undesirable] migrants. Because African migrants are now posing the same challenges for Europe that Haitian migrants have been posing for the United States for decades.

(“Europeans Erecting High Fences to Maintain Good Relations with African Neighbors,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 8, 2005)

With fecund immigrants creating an increasingly diverse continent and migrants swarming in from all over Africa, Europe is struggling to manage the same kinds of racial and migration problems that have beset the United States from day one of its founding.

Fears are mounting in Italy that immigrants from North Africa are determined to ape the riots their brothers perpetrated throughout France five years ago. Because, for the second time in as many months, disillusioned, disaffected, and delinquent youths rampaged through Milan last weekend, destroying shops and burning cars to vent long-simmering grievances over chronic unemployment, racial and religious discrimination, and police brutality.

Instead of dealing with the root causes of these riots – as the French did by implementing government programs to assimilate their alienated young Africans, the Italians have decided to corral them in internment camps for repatriation. In fact, Italian lawmakers prepared for these riots years ago by enacting the most draconian immigration laws in Europe.

(“First France, Now Immigrant Riots Raging in Italy,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 16, 2010)

Screen Shot 2013-10-06 at 6.11.36 PMThose riots were harbingers of the racial problems that will beset every European country for decades to come.

No less foreboding though were the boatloads of Africans swarming the Italian island of Lampedusa in recent years … like Haitians swarming Miami Beach.

An even greater tragedy is the number of these jam-packed boats that have capsized in open waters, where no SOS was sounded for the U.S. Coast Guard to rescue even those who managed to swim – desperately and aimlessly – for hours … before drowning.

(“Compassion Fatigue for Haitian Migrants,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 31, 2009)

Sicilian-Boat-Sinking-2334190Yet, for decades, it seems nary a week has gone by without news about the U.S. Coast Guard (or the Bahamas Defense Force) rescuing Haitian migrants from a capsized boat in the Caribbean Sea. And even though the survivors were invariably repatriated, they were the lucky ones….

This is why it came as no surprise on Thursday when news broke about the Italian Coast Guard rescuing African migrants from a capsized boat in the Mediterranean Sea. There were a few survivors, but the BBC reports that 194 drowned and over 200 remain unaccounted for … and are presumed dead. As with the Haitians, though, one is compelled to wonder how many African migrants perish along the way, every day, without being able to even send out an SOS….

images-1Nonetheless, as tragic as this event was, political dysfunction, economic stagnation, and civil strife on the Dark Continent are such that Africans will continue to risk life and limb to seek a better life. For, just as no legal barrier or risk of drowning in the Caribbean Sea has stemmed the tide of Haitian migrants setting off for America, no legal barrier or risk of drowning in the Mediterranean Sea will stem the tide of African migrants setting off for Europe.

I should clarify here that I’m using Haitian migrants in this context because of their obvious parallels with African migrants. But I hope it’s self-evident that migrants from Mexico, Central, and South America constitute the vast majority of those who populate America’s “migrant streams.” Haitians are just the most tragic and undesirable (i.e., from a U.S. immigration perspective).

What’s more, efforts to reform America’s immigration laws have far more to do with assimilating migrants from these other countries than those from Haiti – whose fate I fear will continue to be either repatriation or death at sea.

In a similar vein, even if less evident, migrants from Turkey, the Middle East, India, and Pakistan constitute the vast majority of those who populate Europe’s migrant streams. Africans are just the most tragic and undesirable (i.e., from an EU immigration perspective).

That said, continuing the Haitian parallels for illustrative purposes, Italians are becoming even more fed up with having to deal with migrating Africans than Floridians have ever been with having to deal with migrating Haitians.

italy-migrant-deaths-7-630x437And who can blame the Italians. After all, there has never been any question in the United States about the problem of Haitian migration being a federal, not a state, one. By contrast, Italians have been complaining for years about the Europeans acting as if the problem of African migration is an Italian, not a European, one.

Angelino Alfano, the deputy prime minister, said: ‘We hope the EU realises that this is not an Italian but a European disaster.’ He headed to Lampedusa vowing to ‘make Italy’s voice heard loudly’ with José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European commission.

(Guardian, October 3, 2013)

All the same, as Alfano’s statement indicates, it speaks volumes that Europeans are ascribing no blame for this Lampedusa tragedy to the African governments that have failed their people so abysmally. This failure, after all, is the only reason so many Africans, utterly bereft of hope at home, are fleeing to Europe in desperate pursuit of peace, prosperity, and happiness. But I suppose this self-recrimination among European governments demonstrates how difficult it is for them to sever that umbilical cord of colonial obligation….

I just hope the damning irony is not lost on any proud African that, 50 years after decolonization, hundreds of Africans (men, women, and children) are risking their lives, practically every day, to subjugate themselves to the paternal mercies of their former colonial masters in Europe.

Related commentaries:
Europeans erecting high fences
Compassion fatigue
First France

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