Diaspora Matters

May 17, 2015

No sea shall stand on the way to ‘Promised Land’

boats capsize

File: Rescue operation on one of the African migrant boats that capsized .

By Babajide Alabi

They have been arriving in thousands. Some of them are weak, others are kept strong by hope for a better future. So many die daily, while many others are carried in body bags at the end of the journey. While the less fortunate ones are fed to the creatures under the sea. It has been dubbed the journey into the unknown, and undertaken only by the bold.

A look at them shows these men, women and children have prepared themselves for the worst, as they take probably the biggest risks of their lives. They are decked in layers of thick clothing, ill-fitting coats and apparels, they appear from a distance like rainbow colours across the sky. They are of different languages and colours, yet united by a single aim as they cram themselves in the choice means of travelling – the vessels.

To them, the mediterranean is the “standing” block to better lives for them and their families. The Mediterranean route to Europe was described by the UN Agency for Refugees as the “most lethal route in the world”. But to them, there is no stopping them or their dreams. No matter how vast and intimidating the waters may look, to them, it is a do or die affair. And like the Israelites in the wilderness, their eyes are on the prize – the Promised Land.

There may be no Moses to part the sea for them, but they trust their confidence in their will power to sail through. For days and nights they prepare their minds for the “rough” journey that awaits them on the seas. Just like football coaches hold pep talks with their players before the match, the people smugglers must have given these migrants a few life-saving tips on surviving the seas.  But that is as far as compassion goes, as they are mostly abandoned immediately the rickety vessels set sail, left at the mercy of the European coastguards.

Rescue operation on one of the African migrant boats that capsized .

Rescue operation on one of the African migrant boats that capsized .

These are the migrants who have put everything on the line to cross the seas and begin a new life in Europe. They have come in different shapes, sizes, ages, religions, sexes and orientations. But they are united by one dream – life in Europe. Yet for them this dream is very tall, as they have no legal means of reaching their destination. Their dreams do not accommodate applying for travelling visas to enter the continent. Some of them do not even have passports and those who do, know they stand no chance of getting visas stamped on them. Yet they cannot “derail” their own dreams of a life in Europe.

They are from Africa, the Middle East, South and Central Asia. They are Libyans, Somalians, Eriterians, Sudanese, Iraqis, Syrians, a handful of Nigerians (yes, Nigerians) etc. Apart from sharing a dream of better lives in Europe, these people are also bonded by the insecurities in their respective countries. They all know what poverty is, and also recognise the political instability and civil wars in their countries will never throw opportunities their ways.

They are desperate, with no thoughts of their personal safety, they surrender their fates to the workings of the people smugglers. To some, attempting a “swim” across the Mediterranean is better than staying put in their countries where death knocks on doors at will – via kidnapping, execution or suicide bombing. To most, they would rather die on the European soil than be caught by “easy” death in their home countries where lives of people like them mean nothing to their leaders.

For as long as history can remember, thousands of migrants have been using every means to cross to their land of opportunities – Europe. It is therefore a source of thriving business for men (and women) who make money exploiting desperate people. For a one way trip on a rickety vessel, the members of the cartel collect thousands of dollars from the immigrants. This is far more than a normal cruise liner will charge for a round the world tour.

The plights of these migrants need more than ordinary pity from the world that has sat back and watched all the years as these countries are rendered ungovernable and unsafe for citizens. The look of relief on the faces of these immigrants as they file off rescue boats tell the story of their lucky escapes. These ones, who had now become numbers, for identification, thank their stars for making it ashore.

They remember the people they started the journey with but could not make it to the other side. Some died on the sea due to exhaustion, lack of water, lack of food and some thrown overboard after minor arguments. All these had no opportunity of a descent burial. The vast water “ate” them like thousands of others before them. A few got into the Promised Land in body bags and straight for burial in a land they had dreamt would afford them descent and good lives.

In the midst of these, there are cries of new born babies and children. These are the innocents who are in the situation only because of the decision made by their parents. They are luckier than the adults, as Europe do not turn its back on children.

Everyday, the pictures of these arriving migrants are shown on international news channels. Becaiuse of the unprecedented number risking their lives in this venture, the world is now waking up to its responsibilities. The response from the European Union, although seen as impracticable by analysts, has been very encouraging. The Union is proposing more funding and resettlement of migrants quota to member states.

The migrants allocation to EU members has generated a lot of controversies in some countries. The United Kingdom Home Secretary Theresa May had voiced opposition to the proposal, which she said the country would fight against. She is not alone on this, as many of the EU member states are distancing themselves from the proposal.

For now the migrants are cooling their heels in detention centres as the world decides their fate. The first duty of the west, according to the no-nonsense UK’s Theresa May, is separating the economic migrants (?) from the genuine refugees. To her, the former should be shipped back across the Mediterranean to wherever they came from.

The problem of these migrants goes beyond containing them in the European corridor. There has to be permanent solution to it. The solution lies in making sure peace reigns in the countries where these migrants come from. While some of the governments should share the blame in the destabilisations of these countries, their main assignments right now is encouraging the development of democracy.