African governments and institutions must do more to prevent migrants from attempting the deadly Mediterranean crossing following a spate of fatal sinkings, according to the International Organisation for Migration.
“At this stage, we must be talking about the African Union retaking leadership, or even regional bodies like Ecowas. We’ve been on record as saying there should be more leadership being shown from Africa, because sometimes solutions start at home,” said spokesman Itayi Viriri.
Migration from North Africa has hit the top of the international agenda after over 800 migrants were estimated to have drowned off Libya in one incident last week. African states remain the biggest countries of origin for migrants attempting the perilous crossing, with Gambia, Senegal and Somalia accounting for the largest numbers arriving at Italy by sea in the first three months of the year, according to the IOM. Among African countries, Eritrea accounted for the largest number of arrivals in 2014, with 34,329 recorded by the IOM – second only to Syria’s 42,323.
The IOM said that the continent needed to do much more to coordinate efforts to combat trafficking and alleviate the socio-economic factors that have led to a spike in refugee flows. The organisation calculates that migrant deaths in 2015 are 30 times higher than the same period last year. It is estimated that up to 30,000 could die this year.
“They [African governments] do care what happens to their nationals, mostly anyway. The AU needs to speak with one voice. Right now there are successful programmes across the continent, but mostly in respective countries. There needs to be more coordination, if not at AU level, then at regional level. More needs to be done from the perspective of African governments to make sure the issues are taken seriously,” said Viriri.
Following the worst migrant disaster in the history of the Mediterranean, criticism has focused on the repeated inaction of the European Union to find a sustainable solution to migrant flows on its southern borders. Last year, Mare Nostrum, the Italian search and rescue mission credited with saving thousands of lives, was controversially scrapped amid allegations that rescue operations encourage desperate migrants to risk the journey. As well as failing to stem the flow of migrants, Mare Nostrum did not receive the backing of European countries as a sustainable solution.
In response, EU states launched Operation Triton, which they pledged to bolster this week by tripling search-and-rescue funding – but which has been criticised for focusing on securing borders rather than saving migrant lives. Funding for Triton had previously been at only a third of Mare Nostrum’s budget.
The situation is further complicated by instability in Libya, where warring factions continue to fight for political supremacy. Mooted military solutions such as sabotaging smugglers’ boats and arresting traffickers will require co-operation from local entities, according to the IOM.
“If there’s no cooperation from the Libyan authorities then its not going to work. [Plans to destroy boats] can only happen with cooperation of authorities south of the Mediterranean…I am sure the African Union would not necessarily want a military solution that does not involve them or has not been checked with them first”, said Viriri.
A more holistic, long-term solution will be required to dissuade refugees from seeking a new life in Europe, according to Viriri.
“We need to look at the countries of origin that people are trying to get away from, and problems like extreme poverty, conflict, repressive regimes and better governance”.
Academics however believe that solutions to Europe’s migration problems will only diminish when structural inequality has been addressed in the global economy. World Bank economist Branko Milanovic wrote a 2012 paper for the London School of Economics arguing that the solution cannot be found in poor countries alone.
“The problem of migration will disappear, or become manageable, only when differences in mean incomes between countries becomes smaller. It is therefore in the best interests of rich countries to work to deliver a better living standard for the poor people of the world by increased aid, in order to reduce the pressure of migration on their society.”