By. Ferdinand Ekeoma
It has become a boring news to hear that African migrants heading to Europe and Asia by land or sea are killed in their dozens and sometimes hundreds in the Mediterranean Sea daily.
Those who chose to travel by land, through the desert either die of hunger and exhaustion or are attacked, dispossessed and killed by border criminals. Stories are told of how human corpses and skeletons of dead African migrants litter the Sahara Desert. Those who chose to travel by sea either drown or are attacked and thrown into the sea by criminals or unfriendly sea guards.
Most of these migrants chose North African countries like Morocco and Libya as their travelling routes, hoping to get to Spain, Greece, Italy and other European countries, unfortunately, many end up as corpses mid-way while majority of those who survive the horrific experience end up in crowded refugee camps with sad stories.
These desperate migrants chose these illegal routes mainly because they lack the resources, the necessary papers and above all, adequate information and knowledge needed to guide them aright in these journeys. These ill-informed road travelers underrate the hazardous nature of the long journey, thus most of them are usually stuck mid-way into their journeys once they run out of cash, as they spend most of the money on transport and settlement of the army of legal and illegal border security agents,
Those who chose to go by sea put their lives at risk most times by boarding over crowded rickety boats or faulty and overcrowded ships, hence the incessant disasters recorded at sea.
Stories have been told of how sea border security guards intentionally carried out attack on desperate African migrants forcing their boats to capsize, while others have been accused of standing by to watch endangered immigrants get drown without offering any form of assistance, even when the responsibility of sea boarder security to rescue those whose lives are endangered in boats is enshrined under the law of sea.
As at mid-2015, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHER) reported that out of over 350,000 people who journeyed across the Mediterranean, 3,075 died or disappeared. The report went ahead to disclose that six out of the ten largest countries of origin of refugees were Africans which included Somali, South Sudan, Gambia, Senegal, Nigeria and Central African Republic.
In February 2013, Spanish police opened fire on a ship carrying hundreds of African migrants who were asking for help after their ship developed problem while trying to enter Spain. Not les than 40 migrants including Nigerians were killed. The shooting attracted serious protest from the Nigerian community in Spain and condemnation from Human Rights groups.
According to the International Organization for Migrants (IOM) about 50,000 people crossed the Mediterranean within January 2016, out of which 2,200 persons lost their lives. According to the report, a dozen other migrants also died after crossing over to Europe. The report disclosed that this alarming number more than doubled the number of migrants and deaths recorded during the same period in 2014 and 2015 respectively. Dozens of other tragedies that are not captured here have occurred, with many human casualties. This 2016 figure is not only frightening, but gives a serious warning that huge danger lies ahead.
Unfortunately, the more the news of the deaths of African migrants at sea are reported, especially by International news Agencies, and reactions heard from countries whose boarders are affected, the more African leaders and media Institutions keep silent.
Reacting angrily to the silence of African leaders in the face of the numerous tragedies which led to the death of thousands of African migrants in 2015, a Ghanaian Journalist, Elizabeth Ohene said “The AU wastes no time in vocalizing its thoughts even on matters they are not well informed about, however, their silence on this salient issue may hinder the world from taking their commentary seriously. I have heard African Governments make statements on issues that do not concern them in any way; I have heard them on issues when their opinions are not sought and I have heard brave statements on issues about which we obviously are not well informed. But the drama unfolding on the North African coast demands some noise of some kind from Africa. Otherwise we shall forfeit forever the right to comment on any other world event”.
The frustration expressed by this journalist is the same frustration some of us feel concerning the unjustifiable silence of African leaders while their citizens perish at sea in a bid to seek greener pastures.
If Europe whose citizens are not the real victims of these illegal migrations could be speaking out and coming up with measures to prevent illegal African migrants entering their countries, why then have African leaders considered the issue inconsequential by their actions of collective silence.
Speaking on the issue last year, the Gambian President whose citizens are among the highest number of migrants embarking on the risky journey, Yahaya Jameh called on the United Nations General Assembly to investigate what he described as “this man-made sinking”. He condemned what he called “the dangerous, racist and inhuman behavior of deliberately causing boats carrying black Africans to sink” and alleged that there was a deadly mysterious force causing boats carrying Africans to disintegrate.
From the above Statement, President Jameh who has ruled Gambia for 23 years and yet refused to quit power even after being defeated in a Presidential election leaves no one in doubt about his incompetence and obvious disconnection from the realities of this era . He has chosen to ignore the home made factors caused by misgovernance which gave rise to the desperation of his citizens to illegally migrate to Europe, but chose to apportion blame against those who didn’t cause the illegal migration ab nitiu while at the same time sounding unnecessarily superstitious.
Mr. Jameh’s statement bears the same disdainful resemblance with that of South African president Jacob Zuma who while reacting to criticisms in the wake of the xenophobic attack in his country in 2015 said, “Why are their citizens not in their countries? Why are they in South Africa?
The statements from the two African leaders speak volumes of the level of disrespect African leaders generally have for their people. It shows gross disrespect for human dignity. It also imposes huge moral burden on Africans who would want to criticize the West for alleged marginalization and racism, because the internal marginalization and racism we carry out against our people and fellow African countries cannot measure with the ones we accuse Europe, America and even Asia of committing against us.
Since it has become an undisputed fact that African countries including Nigeria and their leaders have failed to give the desired response to this critical issue, time is ripe to reawaken the consciousness of all on the urgent need to come up with the necessary measures that would help solve this problem once and for all, because any further silence and nonchalant attitude would ridicule Africa the more and continue to endanger the lives of their citizens.
While there is urgent need to come up with a well thought out education and re-orientation policy aimed at informing and discouraging our youths from embarking on the dangerous illegal migration, yet our governments at all levels must come up with sound economic policies that would not only favor the youths and take them out of the streets, but one that can give them hope of a secure economic future, and take away the thoughts and desire of travelling abroad by all means, since investigations have shown that most of these illegal immigrants are youths who are driven out of their various countries by biting poverty and economic uncertainty of what tomorrow holds.
Even where there could be some justifications for citizens of some poor and warring African countries trying to illegally migrate to Europe, there is no justification for Nigeria that is not at war and with huge economic endowments to allow her citizens to continue to suffer and die in their hundreds at the Mediterranean in a bid to get to Europe. Most of the victims are youths who are the crème of the Nigerian State and who ordinarily should form the back bone of the Nation, therefore the earlier the destructive drift that is capable of depleting our strength as a nation is checked, the better for us all.
Nigerian media practitioners should dedicate some of the energy they put in reporting sensational ugly political developments in educating and enlightening millions of ill-informed Nigerian youths who are lured into these risky journeys as a result of ignorance.
The media should also put leaders at all levels to task so that they could rise to the challenges posed by these illegal migrations.
Finally, since our youths command huge influence on social media, the enlightened and capable ones should use the effective tool of social media to educate their fellow youths of the disasters and far reaching negative consequences of illegal migration.
The earlier we adopted proactive and consensus robust strategy in tackling the menace of illegal migration to foreign countries, the better for us all.