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  • on 03.10.2014
  • at 05:00 PM
  • by Kevin Hind

Lampedusa commemoration – Cecile Kyenge: ‘Europe may have blood on its hands, but so do governments in Africa’ 0

Brussels – ‘Europe may have blood on its hands, but so do governments in Africa. The EU’s restrictive and security-based migration policies have failed, contributing to a tragic loss of lives in the Mediterranean Sea’, says Cecile Kyenge, Italian deputy at the European Parliament. ‘But African governments must also take responsibility and protect migrants from human rights abuses in order to avoid new tragedies’, she adds from the island of Lampedusa, where survivors and politicians gathered to commemorate the death of 368 migrants who drowned trying to reach Italy last year.

A year has passed since the tragic events of Lampedusa and it seems little has changed. Migrants continue to drown in desperate attempts to cross the Mediterranean. Who is to blame?

The tragedy of Lampedusa reminds us that every political decision affects people’s lives. I remember standing in front of all those coffins lined up on the beach, thinking those human remains were a harrowing symbol of political failure. We have moved on from this tragedy, but there is still much to do. According to a recent report by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), over 3,000 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea since the start of 2014. This means the restrictive and security-based migration policies adopted by the EU and its member states over the last few years have failed and continue to fail.

It is easy to criticize Mare Nostrum, but is the EU offering an alternative? No. Having said that, we must also acknowledge the responsibility of African governments. Europe may have blood on its hands, but so do governments in Africa. Despite significant economic growth over the last ten years, the majority of African countries have yet to achieve democracy and many are involved in armed conflicts. No person should be forced to flee because of war, violence or human rights violations. Yet most people do not have a choice. The majority of African migrants do not leave out of attraction for a better life elsewhere, but because they are unable to live in dignity on their own territory.

What approach should be taken to avoid further tragedies?

The EU needs to collaborate with the African Union and individual countries in order to enforce human rights and promote democracy throughout the continent. These fundamental principles have a direct impact on migration and form the basis of sustainable development, without which migration flows will only intensify. Unfortunately the EU is too lenient towards African countries that fail to respect these universal prerogatives. In 2012, the EU received the Nobel Peace Prize for advancing peace, reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe. How can it be so indifferent to the same principles on the African continent?

So Italy’s strategy, to combine migration and development, is the right one?

Yes, since the Lampedusa tragedy Italy was the first to call for development policy cooperation to become a leading aspect of the EU’s response to migration. The purpose of aid is not to contain migration, but to promote good governance, achieve sustainable development and tackle universal issues that deny people the right to live where they choose. The aim is also to move away from previous approaches promoted by Italy’s ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in cooperation with Muammar Gaddafi. Under the horrific ‘Treaty of Friendship’, illegal immigrants were swiftly deported and dumped in detention centres around Libya and Tunisia. It makes no sense to target those at the bottom of the chain. Focus should be directed at the invisible laws, treaties and policies on top, which move down the system and have visible repercussions on the population. From this point of view, combining migration and development also fuels greater collaboration between the EU and African governments. This must be prioritized for people to make real choices.

In the long-term there are development policies, but in case of emergency what can we do?

The first step is to install a series of strongholds coordinated by the United Nations and the UNHCR, creating a network of ‘neutral havens’ where migrants on the move can seek shelter and international protection. Today these are treacherous journeys ensnared with risks of detention, imprisonment, human rights violations and death. The lack of monitoring makes it is easy to turn a blind eye to their fate. African governments should take responsibility and install ‘neutral havens’ within their borders, coordinating with their neighbours so as to achieve a chain of concrete results. This is a global issue, which is why international cooperation is so important. A request for asylum does not only concern the host country, but should be managed by an international system involving twenty-eight Member States and the rest of the world.

It is also worth noting that not all emigrants travel to Europe. In fact, according to United Nations, over eighty per cent of international migrants residing in Africa were born on the continent itself. Countries such as Angola and South Africa are moving fast, with booming economies that attract a significant inflow of people from neighbouring countries. Whether in Europe, the US or Africa, it is vital to monitor their living conditions and avoid human rights abuses such as those suffered by Zimbabweans in South Africa. A safe journey, civil protection, the right to seek asylum – these are global responsibilities from which no country or continent can be exempt. Only then will people have the choice not to cross the Mediterranean on a dinghy at the mercy of human traffickers. This is why I have chosen to focus on the political aspects. Nothing can be solved without global peace and democracy.

By Sofia Christensen and Joshua Massarenti – Afronline.org 

Photo credit: GoPixPic

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