WHEN DESPERATION MEETS DEATH

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Africa leaders could do more to put their economies in order

The desperation of migrants from Nigeria and other African countries to crossover to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea has continued to claim thousands of lives. In the latest tragedy involving more than 700 refugees in three shipwrecks, according to the United Nations (UNHRC), scores of bodies were recovered from the sea off the coast of Libya. “There were many women and children on board,” said Giovanna Di Benedetto, spokeswoman for Save the Children. The men, women and children attempting these perilous journeys were from many countries including Eritrea, Afghanistan, Somalia and Nigeria.

The latest incident was one in a series of tragedies that have claimed thousands of lives, especially from our continent in the past five years. For instance, within a period of one week between April 13 and April 20 this year, five boats carrying no fewer than 2,000 Europe-bound migrants sank with a combined death toll estimated at 1,200 people. In October 2013, more than 500 people drowned while attempting the journey to Europe from the North African coast. In 2014, around 3,500 people also drowned attempting the same journey; and in one incident in April 2015, more than 800 people lost their lives.

According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), no fewer than 3,778 persons fleeing conflicts and poverty perished last year in the Mediterranean Sea while all the tragedies were recorded against the backdrop of the refusal by several European Union (EU) governments to fund the Italian-run rescue operations. However, as we stated in the past, the issue for us should not be what the European countries did or refused to do to allow immigrants from our continent on their shores but rather what we are doing to prevent such tragedies that have become a routine affair.

What is particularly disturbing is that while there are serious discussions in Europe about how to tackle the humanitarian challenge, African leaders do not seem to care that their people would rather risk death at sea than stay in their own countries where opportunities are shrinking by the day. More specifically, despite the fact that several of our nationals were reported to have perished alongside others, there has been no coherent response from the Nigerian authorities.

It is even all the more disturbing given recent revelations by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) that traffickers and gangs in Nigeria were now exploiting the migration crisis to move girls to Libya, before crossing the Mediterranean to Italy on overloaded boats. Indeed, statistics from the IOM revealed that about 5,600 Nigerian women and girls arrived in Italy by sea last year, up from 1,200 in 2014, yet majority of them were trafficked for sex work. Again, no fewer than 1,250 Nigerian women have landed in Italy this year, up from 373 in the same period in 2015, according to IOM.

However, it should come as no surprise. Today, we live in a country where many are not only poor but cannot find jobs. Factories are closing down and selling their warehouses to promoters of religious organisations while several businesses have been forced to shutdown or moving out of the country due to lack of infrastructure. In the circumstance, young and vibrant youths are leaving the country to embark on journeys which for many of them tragically end at sea. But there is also a mindset that needs to be dealt with.

Even when government does all it should, there are those who believe they can only make it abroad and will do anything to travel outside the shores of the country. So apart from improving on the socio-economic structures of our country, we need to embark on an aggressive campaign to reorientate the minds of many young people that the grass may indeed not be greener on the other side.