30 Sep 2014

Lampedusa - Why did so many Africans die?


By Ida Horner

The small Italian island of Lampedusa is still in shock following the death of at least 311 African migrants. The question that has preoccupied analysts as well as the rest of the world is, why did this happen?

An Interviewee on PM, a BBC Radio 4 flagship news program argued that so many Africans died because Africans cannot swim; the interviewee observed that if the immigrants were good swimmers they would have stood a very good chance of surviving because the capsized boat was very close to its destination.

Is this yet another stereotype about Africans inability to swim? After all, it is possible that the people on the boat were too tired and weak to swim after a long a journey. His comment further ignores the courage and determination displayed by a people in search of a better life for themselves and their families in Europe.

The reasons why people immigrate are complex and are to do with a confluence of factors such as poverty, human rights abuses, poor governance, and political instability in countries of origin. Irregular immigration of the kind we have witnessed at Lampedusa is risky and most observers accept that something has to be done to ensure that the Mediterranean Sea does not become a cemetery to immigrants.

Irregular immigration impacts both Africa and Europe. We must therefore ask what the European Union (EU) and the African Union (AU) are doing about causes of irregular immigration. Through its development policy, the EU has an impressive array of programs intended to address most of the factors that lead to irregular immigration including a Joint Africa -EU Action plan on Migration, Mobility and Employment 2011- 2013 on how both continents intend to manage legal and irregular migration. [Editors Note: This has been superseded with a Joint Declaration on Migration and Mobility 2014-2017 at the 4th Africa EU Summit in April 2014]

On irregular migration, there would be increased dialogue between countries of origin, transit and destination to tackle issues such as human trafficking and the selling of people. An example of such dialogue started with talks between Italy’s Berlusconi and Libya’s Gaddafi in which the EU is said to have promised Gaddafi 5 billion Euros a year to stop African immigrants over running European capitals and turning them black.

In spite of such measures irregular migration continues. Why is this?

According to Jimmy Kainja, Blogger and Media scholar based in Malawi:

“The EU has taken a lead but the ultimate problem and solution lies within African boundaries, not Europe. The African Union should take a lead. These are African citizens running away from their homelands. Solutions ought to be there. It is a shame that it is Europe that seems to care. The AU is happy to convene and discuss saving African leaders from the actions of the ICC than discussing the plight of its people. Folks buried in unmarked graves far away from their homelands.”

I would add that, one of the reasons for increased irregular migration is that whilst the EU has transferred a huge amount of resources to facilitate development in African countries, those resources are not always used appropriately nor evenly distributed.

Some amongst the African leaders siphon off the resources for personal use, with impunity in most cases. When this happens, citizens are left poor and unable to meet their basic needs such as access to food, health and education. Citizens that are preoccupied with putting food on the table are consequently unlikely to have time to engage in the political process and such become politically excluded and voiceless

In addition, some of the resources transferred to Africa by European countries find their way back to Europe.

Another issue for consideration is to do with decisions taken within the EU with respect to trade, agriculture, and security, particularly how well such policies fit in and or compliment the stated aims of the EU’s development policy and their impact on African countries. [Editors Note: See Policy Coherence for Development]

It is worthwhile too, examining the structure of EU trade agreements with African countries from the point of view of the extent to which such policies are equitable and how they contribute to mitigating the reasons why irregular migration is on the increase.

For instance a report by the Transnational Institute, entitled the European Union and the Global Land Grab, argues that the EU’s foreign direct investment policy was designed to favour foreign investors instead of balancing the power between the host countries and investor whilst the EU’s Trade Policy called Everything But Arms (EBA) has contributed to land grabs for the growing of sugars etc., for export into the EU.

The implication of these policies is that they work against the EU’s development policy with the effect of rendering it ineffective in impacting the reasons for the increased irregular immigration into Europe and contributing to human trafficking.

Ida Horner is Managing Director of Ethnic Supplies, a social enterprise working to alleviate poverty amongst East African women involved in textile and handicraft production. She is also Managing Editor of Africa on the Blog, where this article first appeared.

She is a Community Development Consultant, chairing a community development charity ‘Let Them Help Themselves Out of Poverty’. Follow her on Twitter @idahorner

The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of ECDPM.

The photo is courtesy of Noborder Network.

For more analysis of the EU’s migration policy challenges, read the following blogs from ECDPM:

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