Recently, news reports carried the tragic story of 64 Somali-Ethiopian would-be immigrants who drowned off the coast of Yemen. A UAE paper also reported the story of two teenage Ethiopian boys who were found near starvation in a shipping container in Dubai. The 14- and 15-year-old boys had each paid US$1,000, which they saved over five years, to make the trip to Germany; some of their friends had made the journey earlier in similar conditions and are now making a good living there. The boys ran out of food and water in the first day of the trip and had to resort to drinking each other’s urine to survive.
Under normal circumstances, this could be seen as a human tragedy of immense proportions. But since such stories and other even gloomier ones have become daily occurrences, they fail to make headlines - let alone invoke shock and invite empathy.
As one report put it, the seas separating Europe from Africa are being turned into a mass grave of the “unidentified immigrant”: hundreds and thousands of men, women and children perish in an attempt to find a better life abroad.
But instead of looking into the roots of the problem and forging out a common strategy to find a solution, European leaders are panicking and inclining more and more to turn Europe into a fortress. One might remind the Europeans of their scramble for Africa and their 1884 Berlin Conference, during which they divided Africa among various European powers. When Europe today complains about illegal African immigration, they should remember that they robbed a whole continent of everything of value for more than 80 years before they handed over the empty bowl to Africa’s native citizens.
Europe has been trying to refill the empty bowl since the majority of African nations gained their independence in the 1960s, but it seems the African masses have realised that filling the empty bowl with Europe’s kitchen leftovers have only satiated the appetite of the African ruling elite, while the majority of Africans slept on empty stomachs.
The tribal wars and unending conflicts in Africa are therefore only about people fighting over these handouts. But with the population explosion and subsequent dwindling of resources, the young Africans began to look to Europe for survival and hope - which is how the rush toward Europe for food started.
The solution to this myriad problem, in my opinion, is not to turn Europe into a fortress but to revolutionise the current concept of aid to Africa. It is clear that the current trend not only places an economic and social burden on Europe, but also deprives Africa of its effective workforce, particularly as a UNESCO report notes that the majority of those who risk their lives on the high seas are in their prime between the ages of 17 and 30 and are predominantly high school graduates.
It is well known that ageing Europe needs both skilled and unskilled African and Asian workers, and that Third World countries need organised immigration policies that can ensure a reasonable number of their youth to seek a better life abroad. Those emigrants can earn badly needed hard currency for their countries of origin while their countries still retain a sufficient number of their skilled workforce for the development of their home countries.
A mutually beneficial and innovative solution could be an adoption of massive direct investment strategy in Africa and other Third World countries, where Americans and Europeans pour money into the productive sectors, particularly the agriculture, animal husbandry, minerals, oil, water, infrastructure, information technology, education and health sectors. This will not only create tens of thousands of jobs for African youth, but will also bring profits to the industrialised countries.
Another measure could be creating a quota system for African labour to Europe where unilateral or collective agreements are signed between the European Union and the African Union. Each African country could be assigned a certain number of skilled and unskilled workers to be allowed to work in Europe.
This should be coupled with stringent regulations to curb illegal immigration by imposing heavy penalties and jail time for human traffickers and ships involved in this inhuman business. Punitive actions against countries from which these people originate should also be put in place, such as reducing their labour quotas or cutting down direct investments.
Another important measure could be the elimination of Europe’s welfare system, wherein every refugee or economic asylum-seeker is guaranteed a free ride for life. This generous dole regimen acts as a catchment that attracts whole tribes who, once they enter, keep breeding and wallowing in it.
A ceiling and strict conditions for providing such assistance to only people who deserve should be put in place. It is possible to find now African businessmen or even politicians who take dole from European countries in which they have claimed refugee status. Some of these people own mansions in their native countries and send their children to expensive schools and universities. Meanwhile, taxpaying European citizens on whose contributions these people survive can hardly afford to make ends meet.
Unlike the Arabian Gulf countries, where ten million foreigners live and contribute to the development of the six GCC states while sending remittances of about $30 billion to their home countries, welfare beneficiaries in western countries such as Europe, Canada and Australia make almost zero contribution to their host countries. They only increase the burden on them by enticing their less fortunate sisters and brothers to join them in their newfound Eden.
It is therefore neither through a fortress Europe nor through a begging Africa that we can achieve world harmony in the 21st century’s global village, but through forging sound policies and strategies that can provide Europe with the labour its markets need and can secure Africa the development and better life to which its people aspire.