Europe’s Migration Tragedy in the Mediterranean

Thousands arrive every year on the Italian island of Lampedusa in search of a better future.
Thousands arrive every year on the Italian island of Lampedusa in search of a better future. (No Border Network)

EspañolAt least 700 immigrants perished early on Sunday morning when the boat they were in overturned 130 kilometers off the coast of Libya. The following day, another craft with 200 people on board sank in the Aegean sea: three people died, one of them a child. On Tuesday, the Italian coast guard rescued another fishing craft that was on the point of sinking, taking 446 migrants with it.

In total, Italy has rescued 10,000 men, women, and children in the last week alone. During 2014, 2,400 people perished trying to cross the Mediterranean in search of a brighter future in Europe. In the first three months of this year, 10,200 immigrants were successful. Over 1,500 have died since the start of 2015.

Why are so many making such a desperate journey?

The majority of passengers in these boats come from countries such as Algeria, Zambia, Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria, Mali, Egypt, Syria, and Bangladesh. They’re expelled by the wars, dictatorships, misery, and hunger that predominate in their countries.

In response to the latest wave of tragedies, European Council President Donald Tusk called an extraordinary meeting for April 23 to address the issue which affects the entire continent. The arrival of immigrants far outstrips that of last year, with 57,300 crossing European borders without authorization in the first three months of the year, almost tripling the 22,500 who made the same journey in 2014.

“We can’t continue like this, we can’t let hundreds of people die trying to cross the sea to come to Europe,” Tusk argued.

The summit will try to make nations join forces to save lives, help the nations most affected by mass migration, and discuss how to cooperate with countries of origin and transit.

These migrants, just like the balseros that make for Florida from Cuba, leave everything behind in their home countries and risk everything in a perilous sea voyage for a better quality of life overseas.

A High Price

The journey to Europe doesn’t only mean the challenge of the boat crossing. Reaching Europe’s northern countries, or even the south of Italy, can cost people’s lives.

The network that brings Africans to Europe involves different fees. The “coyotes” of the Maghreb charge €5,000 for a desert crossing, while others earn €1.500 a head for packing migrants into rickety fishing boats on the Libyan coast. Others earn between €200 and €400 for providing safe houses for those preparing to make the dash to safety.

If they continue to make the journey further north, for example, to the United Kingdom or the Netherlands, migrants will have to fork out another €1,500.

The Pursuit of Happiness

All countries of the world have received immigration to one degree or another at some point in their history. Argentina received so many immigrants from 1880 that at one point one in every three citizens wasn’t born in the country. Venezuela received many Europeans after the Second World War. Hong Kong accepted many Chinese citizens who came without an education and penniless between 1950 and 1960.

So what are the best policies that receiving nations can adopt? Those that allow undocumented migrants to set themselves up legally within the country with greater speed and safety.

Their only crime is wanting to work and find the happiness denied to them in their home countries.

Even Pope Francis has spoken out on the issue from Saint Peter’s Square. Immigrants, the Catholic spiritual leader said, “are men and women like us, brothers that seek a better life; hungry, persecuted, injured, exploited, victims of wars … men and women like us. They’re seeking happiness.”

Translated by Laurie Blair.

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