Africa is said to be one of the most youthful continents on earth, with at least 75% of its population under the age of 35, and hungry for economic success and prosperity. The rising number of Africans, mostly young people, making the hazardous trip across the Mediterranean in a desperate bid to enter Europe illegally, is therefore a cause of high concern. Desmond Davies looks at why the African youth – who make up most of the unpalatable global headlines about those perishing at sea – are so desperate to flee a continent which, if economic statistics are anything to go by, could hold a brighter future for them.
According to a report released in September by the International Office on Migration (IOM), since 2000 over 40,000 mainly young people have lost their lives as they try to illegally cross over into Europe from North African countries along the Mediterranean Sea. During the same period a further 3,000 died in the Saharan Desert and Indian Ocean. The IOM said that these victims were part of “an epidemic of crime and victimisation”.
The authorities in Italy, one of the main destinations for migrants from across the Mediterranean Sea, have said that the rising wave of illegal migration has reached “Biblical proportions”. In 2013, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), some 63,0000 – and not just from sub-Saharan Africa – made the dangerous crossing. In the first six months of this year over 60,000 had already reached Italy and its Coast Guard intercepts boats crammed with illegal migrants almost on a daily basis.
The IOM report, compiled under its Missing Migrants Project, said Europe was the world’s most dangerous destination for “irregular” migration, costing the lives of over 3,000 migrants since May 2014. Besides counting fatalities, the Missing Migrants Project is part of a broader effort to use social media to engage communities around the world.
The Missing Migrants Project hopes to “lend a powerful voice of deterrence to keep future victims from embarking on these dangerous journeys”. The IOM spokesman Leonard Doyle says: “People are already looking for information about missing migrants on Facebook. We know as well that people are trafficked around the world using Facebook and other social media…We want to turn #MissingMigrants into a powerful voice to warn future migrants against taking these high-risk journeys. It is not doing it with a poster or a radio spot, but with the most persuasive means out there – the voices of survivors and the family members of missing migrants.”
The motivations of Africa’s desperate migrants are varied. For those from East Africa and the Horn of Africa, the motivation is to flee conflict in the region while those from West and Central Africa tend to be leaving for economic reasons.
Criminals are lurking in this milieu to take advantage of people in despair. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) noted earlier this year: “Each year, some 55,000 migrants are thought to be smuggled from East, North and West Africa into Europe, generating about $150 million in revenues for criminals.”