Recently, the rescue vessel Aquarius with 629 migrants on board was denied port entry by Italian and Maltese government officials. The majority of those on board were from North Africa and in need of serious aid. The issue has triggered a rift inside the European Union (EU). Member nations have been hotly debating who should take responsibility for new arrivals and whether Europe should implement a migrant quota system.
It seemed a solution had been reached after Spain allowed the ship to dock in Valencia. Spanish government officials provided health care services to the migrants even though none of them had resident permits. But the effort was an act of kindness and a one-off gesture that many European nations cannot routinely afford. European countries are scrambling to fix the ongoing migrant crisis in the North African border region.
Ever since Libya’s Muhammar Gaddafi regime collapsed, government authority has remained in a vacuum. Since 2014, more than 400,000 migrants and refugees from Libya have crossed the Mediterranean headed for the Italian border. A network of migrant smuggling from the top of North Africa and stretching as far south as Niger and Sudan.
Migrant smuggling is a lucrative business, and cities have found a way to get rich off of Africa’s primary migrant routes. In Niger, the organizations responsible for policing migration activities have come to rely on the bribe revenue provided by the smugglers. In Libya, militias often hold migrants hostage until a ransom is paid before releasing them.
This black market business is fueled by political instability and unrest throughout the African continent. Today, at least 1 million sub-Saharan Africans are living in Libya as slaves or hostages, according to a report for the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees.
By taking large risks, sometimes with their own lives, many still try to get out. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey that polled six African nations, the thing everyone had in common had to do with migrating elsewhere.
In 2017, French President Emmanuel Macron tried to set up “hot spots” in Chad and Niger where refugees could apply for asylum without having to risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean. But the plan was with opposition from other nations who argued that the designated areas would attract more migrants. When Macron first proposed his idea, Chad was already home to some 500,000 refugees.
For European countries like Malta and Italy, the migrant crisis extends beyond the rescue vessels and the people on board. It is a manifestation of political chaos created far from African soil.
Poverty and turmoil continue to plague African countries, while conservatism and populism divide European states. In recent years, rising European policy has shifted from improving humanitarian aid for those seeking refuge inside Europe, to stemming irregular migration traffic regardless of expense.
European leaders need to find a balance between their national interests and humanitarian relief efforts for the African countries in question. Failure to develop a fair, pan-European system based on resettlement quotas and a mutually funded receiving network will push EU allies further away from one another. The result could see representatives of far-right parties emerging within each nation’s ruling cabinet. Overall, it is merely a counter-productive initiative.
However, there is one thing to be sure of, and it’s that the migrant crisis will not see an end if European leaders continue this inhumane race to the bottom.