TRAGEDIES ON THE MEDITERRANEAN SEA

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There is need for a lot more sensitisation on the pitfalls of irregular migration

No fewer than 40 people drowned on Tuesday off the coast of Libya in the latest boat disaster on the Mediterranean Sea. We do not know how many Nigerians were victims of this tragedy that came just weeks after a shipwreck claimed 150 lives in the worst single incident on the Sea this year and we may never know. But we owe them a duty of care. “We must not simply accept these tragedies as inevitable,” said Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR Special Envoy for the Central Mediterranean. “Sympathies must now become actions that prevent loss of life at sea, and prevent the loss of hope that motivates people to risk their lives in the first place.”

From January this year to date, about a thousand people have reportedly lost their lives attempting to cross the Mediterranean. The UNHCR has called for renewed efforts to reduce the loss of life at sea, including a return of European Union search and rescue vessels. But these are mere remedial efforts that do not address the root of the problem. The real action is to ensure that many of our young people on the continent do not have to embark on such desperate journeys that often end on the Mediterranean Sea. Since many of the migrants who are either unemployed or pushed by outright poverty are deceived by stories of jobs, businesses and prosperity by people smugglers, there is a need for a lot of sensitisation by the authorities in most of the African countries on the pitfalls of irregular migration.

In the past one decade, hundreds of thousands of able-bodied young men and women on a daily basis embark on perilous missions across the Mediterranean Sea. Nigeria accounts for majority of these desperate travellers, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa. Sadly, only small numbers eventually reach their destinations where they face huge disappointments and frustrations. While the females among them are often forced into prostitution or deployed as domestic servants under subhuman conditions, the men are used as factory workers or even as organ donors.

In 2015, while appealing to the international community to offer assistance, Pope Francis said, “I make a heartfelt appeal to the international community to react decisively and quickly to see to it that such tragedies are not repeated”. He added that the victims of the tragedy “are men and women like us, our brothers seeking a better life, starving, persecuted, wounded, exploited, victims of war. They were looking for a better life.” But the issue for us should not be what the European countries did or refuse to do to allow immigrants from our continent on their shores. What should concern us is how to avert such tragedy that is now almost a daily affair.

As we therefore lament the latest tragedy in Libya, the authorities in Africa where populations are exploding and opportunities are dwindling must begin to put on their thinking caps. In the case of Nigeria, it is disturbing that despite the horror stories by returnees who are being brought back under the auspices of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), many of our vibrant young people are still embarking on this treacherous journey. Aside the issue of poverty, as we have highlighted several times in the past, there is also a mind-set problem. There are those who believe they can only make it abroad and will do anything to travel outside the shores of the country, not minding the hazards.

While there is an urgent need to provide an enabling environment for the socio-economic development of our country, we need to remake the minds of many of our young people too. The grass is not always greener on the other side