For over 500 years, Africa has been the epicenter of some of humanity’s worst moments in history. War, poverty, slavery, disease and environmental destruction dominate the public perception of the continent in which humanity began. Over and over again, research has proven that the African continent is the birthplace of civilization, language, art, music and the place all of human ancestors began their great journey to every nook and corner of the globe.
A Chilean-born American naturalist, poet and popular writer depicted in a recent report about his first visit to Africa: Ask a child anywhere in the world to name kinds of animals, and it’s no surprise to hear the names of the great beasts that dwell in the Savannah’s and deep, dark jungles. African animals are symbols of nature itself and for adults that mystery and awe are not lost to time and adulthood. Yet, the reality of life in Africa for Africans is often drastically contrasted. Africa and her inhabitants have been plagued by thousands of years of struggle. From the Romans, to the Persians, to the French, English, Spanish, and Americans, the world has come to Africa to drink her rivers, log her forests, mine her minerals and exploit her people. Let alone the Chinese who are on massive exploitative ventures.
The desire of many Africans to migrate to Europe in the midst of war, poverty, disease and human suffering has been trapped as the European Union tightens its borders alongside the Mediterranean Sea. Europe that professes to be a continent devoted to the tenets of human rights, democracy and deeply rooted culture of Christianity as well as a citadel of free movement has turned a blind eye on thousands of African migrants mostly young people crammed into rickety smugglers’ ships to drown right in front of its doorstep without any assistance.
This contentious immigration crisis has led to the death of over 3,000 migrants in this year alone and experts are predicting an expected rise. According to a new report from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Europe is being labeled the most dangerous destination for “irregular” migration in the world. Another shocking statistics from the IOM in its compilation of data since 2000 indicated that an average of eight “irregular” migrants die each day. All the more so, last year October an estimated 500 African migrants died in a shaky boat tragedy off the Italian island of Lampedusa while attempting to enter Europe. In spite of all the efforts instituted by an unsustainable Italian search-and-rescue initiative after the Lampedusa calamity, the Italian authorities have proclaimed that more than 2,500 African migrants are known to have drowned or gone missing in the Mediterranean since the beginning of this year.
Even as the death toll of desperate African migrants rises in the Mediterranean, coupled with uprising in some North African countries and ferocious human rights abuses, the European Union has put into effect a limited joint border patrol codenamed “Operation Triton.” This operation, managed by the European Frontex border agency that replaces the Italian Mare Nostrum operation which rescued on average 400 migrants a day with an aggregate of 150,000 since the boat tragedy off the Italian island of Lampedusa, has absolutely no search and rescue operations across the Mediterranean and limited resources within 30 miles patrols of the Italian coast.
As the European Union builds the walls of fortress higher and higher with tougher regulations, it seems that the immigration crisis is becoming a stalemate with gross violation of certain provisions of the Geneva Convention that give asylum entitlement to those fleeing persecution, including religious, racial, national and political identity or beliefs. Moreover, as one of the cradles for the promotion of fundamental human rights, most especially the right to life, the European Union should not and must not implement bizarre and harsh regulations to the detriment of already poverty-stricken migrants fleeing from some of the worst atrocities ever known to human history and in search of greener pastures and a better way of life as measured by the colonial masters.
The European Union must come to the realization that African migrants are not risking their lives and making the deadliest and most dangerous sea crossing for nothing. As the old African adage goes, “The snake cannot run out of its hole for nothing”. Consequently, the European Union must understand that it is part of the problem and not just an ordinary bystander with protective gears shelling it face with censorious comportment towards African migrants.
Furthermore, the European Union must in the truest sense accept the fact that countless number of African slaves through their sweat, blood and tears labored very hard without any compensation and some even died in the process to build Europe’s wealthiest nations with almost all of the raw materials taken for little or nothing from the African continent. The European Union needs to know that its vast wealth derived from Africa, especially during the colonial period, where they governed, enslaved and enriched themselves at the expense of the continent’s forefathers and indoctrinated many Africans to believe in their way of life. In addition, the European Union must recognize irregular African migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea in overloaded boats to a safe haven in Europe deserve the right to live just like anyone else.
Howbeit, no one expects Europe to carry all of Africa’s burdens because of its deeply rooted history on the continent. Nowadays, what is expected isn’t just aid to destitute Africans without traceable impact or chronicled and voluminous reports about the continent’s lapses, pitfalls and challenges, but a more holistic and realistic picture. The European Union has got to comprehend that Africa merits a mutual relationship, fair trade, and exchange of ideas, especially in the areas of science, technology, engineering and other educational related initiatives.
In this 21st Century, when the world is like a click of a mouse, the European Union ought to stop humiliating irregular African migrants and provide best alternatives to resolving many longstanding conflicts as well as societal vices. Together, Europe and Africa can find a common front in addressing migration across the Mediterranean.
It is about time that the European Union realizes that one day Africans will be able to hold their heads high as they combat the wrongdoings of the past through their own imagination, creativity, and culture. The best days in Africa’s history are in her future and every African must begin to look inward to realize their own potential and believe that they have the power to change the future of Africa to be one ripe with opportunities.
About the author: Mr. Stephen B. Lavalah is an advocate and the Founder & Executive Director of Youth Exploring Solutions (YES), a passionate, non-profit, voluntary, youth-led and grassroots development organization. For more information about YES’ work in Liberia, please visit http://www.liberiayes.org. The views expressed are the author’s own and do not represent YES.