Modern-Day Migrants: Voices & Screams From A Sinking Boat in the Mediterranean

The Mediterranean Sea is the most dangerous route for refugees and migrants in the world. They attempt the travel on unsafe vessels with minimal or no safety or navigation equipment. Drowning and other incidents at sea have become more common.

As you read this article, several young Africans are dying between Libya and Italy or Morocco and Spain, several are awaiting their turns to take on the challenge, and others are nagging on the desert of the Sahara to make it to the borders. 5,000 Africans died in the Mediterranean Sea in 2016, according to the UN Commission on International Migration. I receive calls from parents almost every day, some to report the death of their child and others to ask me to dissuade their children from risking their lives.  They all express the same sadness and desperation.

For five years, I have researched to apprehend this phenomenon of massive deaths of young Africans in the Mediterranean Sea. In my quest to find the real causes and ultimately the sustainable solutions of this phenomenon, I interviewed a lot of people and gathered a lot of data. Among the many incredible stories of resilience and survival I heard and witnessed, I will share with you three of them.

The first one is that of an 18-year-old girl who fled domestic abuse from her country. She told me that she was 15 when her parents forced her to get married to a sexagenarian. The marriage constraints led her to drop out of school with no perspective for her future. After surviving a premature pregnancy, she decided to divorce, but her family wouldn’t let her. When she refused to comply with the abuse, she was repudiated and battered. She went to the police to seek protection, but they told her that, “it is a family matter, so they don’t meddle.” She ran away from her country because she felt hopeless and helpless. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the African sub-Saharan countries have one of the highest early marriage rates in the world. Sadly, many of these young girls are given in marriage to live in miserable conditions. She is one of the millions that go through the same situation she escaped.

The second one, a boy of 19, said he never got the opportunity to go school and was forced into child labor while growing up. With no hope that things will get any better in his country, he then decided to embark on the dangerous journey of migration.

The third one, a young man in his thirties, told me he was a college graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. Upon graduation, he couldn’t secure any job, so he decided to make it to Europe by any means in hopes of finding work there.

The primary agents responsible for these horrendous situations are the governments of the countries of departure. Like you and I, these people have the right to food, water, health, education, and housing, to live without fear, not be discriminated against, to participate in decisions that affect their lives, and to get justice when these rights are violated. The provision of these necessities is the responsibility of a good government. Unfortunately, many of the African sub-Saharan governments have failed to deliver the above. Most are accustomed to corruption, nepotism, mediocrity, social injustice and impunity. On the other side of the Mediterranean, the European Union, over the course of the last five years, implemented Mare Nostrum operation for a while before replacing it by operation Trinton, whose mandates were respectively to rescue the boats in distress and to control the EU’s border. Neither prevented the death toll from increasing.

Unfortunately, we are sort of assisting to a real global conspiracy of neglect. The immigration crises in Sub-Saharan Africa receive little or no attention in regional or global political forums. Should we be complacent about this situation or act? I firmly believe the latter.

In my logic to find a systematic and effective solution, I came across an article suggesting the European Union increase the number of resettlement places that all EU states offer for migrants. The solution may have its merits when the migrants are fleeing from war zones or imminent natural disasters. Indeed, several states provide resettlement and humanitarian admission programs, but the truth is that the needs far exceed available spaces.

To implement a subject-based solution, I decided to go back to the direct victims. When I asked about the effective approach to handling the situation, the people I interviewed had all one common statement: They would rather be in jail in Spain than live free in their countries, but they are willing to go back or avoid risking their lives if more economic opportunities are created and their human dignity is protected in their countries.

As a matter of principle, it’s the primary responsibility of the countries of departure to provide better living conditions to their populations. That means the sub-Saharan governments and the African Union, in general, should come back to the very object for which they are elected, the happiness of the people. To do so, they must be accountable to the people; protect the principles of human rights, end impunity; offer equal opportunity; raise awareness and educate their populations on the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean Sea; and create alternatives for personal and professional growth in their own countries by providing better access to education, health care, training and tools to promote entrepreneurship.

Now, the question is: Is the body of a person who died from Ebola more valuable than that of the one drowned crossing the Mediterranean Sea? If the answer is no, then why not handle the situation like we did during the Ebola outbreak which involved a global action to bring the epidemic to an end? We could do the same to end the deaths of Africans in the Mediterranean Sea. It basically means treating the problem at the root and focusing our efforts to address the causes instead. The shortage of funding for refugee appeals is symptomatic of wider failures to look at the root causes of these large-scale and long-term refugee crises or build systems for meaningful burden and responsibility-sharing within the African continent and the wider international community. Since the phenomenon is global, it requires from us to take a global action. In other words, the global community should take massive actions beforehand, not wait for the problem to occur and then try to resolve it. That literally means to assist and incentivize those countries that rise up to the standards of good governance and democracy, provide funding and tools to promote education, entrepreneurship, and legal safe routes.

All over the world, people living in poverty want an end to the injustice and exclusion that keep them trapped in deprivation. They want control over the decisions that affect their lives. They want their rights to be respected and their voices to account. They demand the protection of their dignity. As a human being, whether you are an African, living in Africa or not, these are global issues that directly affect us. It’s our responsibility to get involved. By getting involved, you can become part of an international network of activists who write letters, send SMS messages, lobby politicians, elect responsible and competent people, push for fair and democratic institutions, and participate in the local affairs of your community to bring about peace and inclusive progress. These simple, but very powerful, actions could help support people living in poverty to exercise and claim their rights, hold governments, companies and international financial institutions to account for human rights abuses and participate in the decisions that affect their lives.

Finally, I assume that we all agree on the fact that there should be a global effort today to end the carnage in the Mediterranean Sea and that no human life should be taken in the pursuit of a better living. However, if you are reading this article from a Sub-Saharan African country and thinking that the west is the El Dorado and that things will take care of themselves without any effort, it is the worst illusion ever. The bottom line is, unless you take responsibility for your life and stop putting all your complaints on the government and the circumstances, not much will happen for you. If you don’t have a personal and professional goal, success will more likely remain a dream for you. My final questions to you are: Have you tried to find an internship? Have you applied to private companies? Have you ever tried to open your own business?  If you have and nothing has turned out right for you, I would suggest you do the following: Instead of thinking about risking your life, work on yourself by learning new skills and volunteering in your local community to teach, coach, or mentor others. You will see how dramatically things will change for you.

Written by Mohamed Diallo, a WYA North America member from Africa.