Wednesday, June 1, 2016 at 6:43 AM

Migrants (Still )Turning Mediterranean Sea into a Vast Cemetery

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

Migrants aren’t a danger, but are in danger.

_89828650_89828649This, according to the May 29 edition of BBC News Online, is the pontifical way Pope Francis dismissed the hysteria this migrant crisis is inciting all over Europe. Never mind that he said it to little children instead of European leaders at the Vatican on Saturday.

But, given the way nimbyism is (mis)guiding European leaders, you’d think Arab and African migrants pose the greatest danger to Europe since the Mongol invasion in the 13th century.

Meanwhile, for geopolitical reasons, Western media have focused on Arab migrants fleeing sectarian wars across the Middle East. To be fair, migrants from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq compose the vast majority of those who triggered this crisis.

Even so, for pan-African reasons, I have focused on African migrants fleeing chronic privation and predation across the Dark Continent. Migrants from Eritrea, Sudan, and other Sub-Saharan countries compose this smaller but critical mass. I have commented on their plight in such commentaries as “Lampedusa Tragedy Highlights Europe’s ‘Haitian’ Problem,” October 7, 2013, and “African Migrants Turning Mediterranean Sea into Vast Cemetery,” February 12, 2015.

This excerpt from the latter now seems prescient – given that reports on this crisis over the past 18 months have smacked of Groundhog Day.


This latest tragedy affirms my foreboding that the bobbing crucible at sea will never deter Africans from trying to escape their living hell at home.

Lampedusa-migration-011The slogan ‘African solutions for African problems’ has gained considerable currency in recent years. Well, no African problem needs an African solution more than living conditions that compel so many Africans to migrate, come what may. The abiding shame is that African leaders show no interest in even trying to solve this problem.

Meanwhile, European leaders are accusing each other of not doing enough to rescue African migrants adrift at sea, fleeing the abject misery African leaders have wrought.

Indeed, no less a person than Pope Francis has entreated all European leaders to do more — the enabling spectre of neo-colonialism be damned. Here, according to Reuters, is the edict summoning their noblesse oblige, which he issued during an address before the European Parliament on November 25, 2014:

We cannot allow the Mediterranean Sea to become a vast cemetery.


Sadly, despite the pope’s prayers and pleadings, thousands have since met their maker at the bottom of the sea. In “Europe’s Migrant Crisis: Sowing Seeds of Unintended but all too Foreseeable Consequences,” September 7, 2015, I bemoaned their arguably suicidal impulse to flee to be free as follows (with apologies to Shakespeare):

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,

So too will Africans take to the sea;

All changing place with those who went before,

In droves these poor souls will continue to flee.

Screen Shot 2016-05-28 at 11.40.50 AMThe recurring tragedy that played out last week is a testament to this:

At least 880 migrants and refugees [primarily from Eritrea, Somalia, and Sudan] died trying to cross the Mediterranean last week, the United Nations refugee agency said on Tuesday, giving updated figures after interviewing survivors brought to Italy.

This year is ‘proving to be particularly deadly’ with 2,510 lives lost in shipwrecks and capsizing, against 1,855 in the same period in 2015, UNHCR spokesman William Spindler said. ‘At the moment (smugglers) are packing people on boats that are barely sea-worthy and many cases are not meant to make the crossing.’

(Reuters, May 31, 2016)

5748b61b130000d605382f97On the other hand, the media are reporting far too little on the Sisyphean fate that greets the “lucky” ones. For whether rescued at sea or rounded up on shore, African migrants are being locked up in concentration camps until they are shipped right back home.

Libya locks up undocumented migrants in a network of some 20 immigrant detention centers, where inmates report being coerced into hard labor, beaten by guards, and cramped into tiny cells with little food or water and barely any ventilation or sanitation.

At least 3,332 migrants, including 222 women and eight children, are being held in eight of the centers that were visited by the International Medical Corps earlier this month, according to UNHCR.

‘I would do anything not to go to prison here,’ a 20-year-old Nigerian, Mobo, told IRIN News in Libya’s Misrata after being caught by coastguards in a migrant boat.

(Huffington Post, May 27, 2016)

The pope highlighted their ongoing plight on Sunday at the Vatican’s ‘Un Muro o Un Ponte’ (A Wall or a Bridge) Seminary. But he also used the occasion to award medals to George Clooney, Richard Gere, and Salma Hayek for their contributions to his educational foundation, ‘Scholas Occurentes’.

Pope Francis meets US actor Clooney and his wife Amal during a meeting of the Scholas Occurrentes at the VaticanUnsurprisingly, the media dedicated far more coverage to the pope hailing celebrities, including Clooney’s trophy wife affecting her best Lady Di look, than to the pope bewailing migrants.

In any event, even the pope must be humbled by his fecklessness when it comes to ending or managing this migrant crisis.

Still, it’s noteworthy that some European leaders are attempting to assume the historical white man’s burden. The irony, of course, is that German Chancellor Angela Merkel took the lead in this respect.

Unfortunately, it did not take long before rank xenophobia had her second-guessing her open-door policy, which led to over one million migrants resettling in Germany last year.

Germany Anti Islamization RallyIndeed, the Express (of London) reported on December 11, 2015, that “bogus scare stories of migrants raping, abusing, burgling and stealing” incited such hysteria that it would have been political suicide for Merkel to ignore them.

I commented on her ongoing attempts to reconcile this conflict between her moral compulsion and political survival in “Merkel Betraying Migration Policy that Won Her ‘Person of the Year,’” December 21, 2015.

All the same, I would be remiss to end this latest lamentation on Europe’s migrant crisis without reciting this indictment of African leaders:

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.

(“African Migrants Turning Mediterranean Sea into Vast Cemetery,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 12, 2015)

Only ending never-ending conflicts and chronic economic stagnation in the countries of origin will end this migrant crisis.

This is why I remain convinced that the most humane and effective way to deal with it is to provide safe havens in those countries. And it behooves European leaders to coordinate with Arab and African leaders to do so by any means necessary – even if that means enforcing naval blockades. This might seem farfetched, but it makes far more sense than European countries building Berlin-style walls – as Hungary and others are doing – to keep migrants out. I elaborated on this in “Europe’s Migration Crisis…,” September 6, 2015.

All the same, I’m acutely mindful that people have been migrating in similar fashion for similar reasons since time immemorial. What’s more, I readily admit that, if I were living in one of the countries of origin affected, I too would be migrating to Europe … by any means necessary.

Finally, I cannot overstate the comeuppance this crisis portends for Europeans — who are reacting to these Arab and African migrants with such hysterical xenophobia and racism. After all, Europeans used to hurl self-righteous criticisms at Americans for reacting to Haitian and Hispanic migrants the same way. I elaborated on this in “Europeans Erecting Fences to Maintain Good Relations with African Neighbors,” October 8, 2005.

Related commentaries:
Lampedusa tragedy
Mediterranean Sea

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