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The present political and economic configuration of the planet is a perfect catalyst for illegal migration. When wealth and power is concentrated in the hands of a few monopolists cornered in one part or negligible parts of the earth, we can only expect that the deprived majority would strive by all means to access the oases.

Migration is as old as humanity itself. We have been migrating since and as of now there is nothing to suggest that we will ever stop moving from one place to another. Certainly, there is strong evidence to suggest that migration will continue to be a dominant human preoccupation for many years to come, if not forever.

Migration is not unique to people, even animals are full time participants in this historical phenomenon. Spurred by the necessities of survival, every year millions of birds, fish, and other animals make remarkable journeys across forests, mountains, seas, and deserts in search of better lives. When the migration is seasonal the animals do return to their place of origin in due course but when it is due to reasons beyond salvation, they go for good. If you watch the Planet Earth series narrated by British naturalist David Attenborough, you will fully appreciate the migratory exploits of animals. Therefore, migration is important for both humans and animals.

However, following the 3 October 2013 Lampedusa boat disaster which resulted in the death of almost 300 African illegal or undocumented migrants, it is vital that we Africans take a closer look at our faith in this frequent avoidable disasters. The Lampedusa boat disaster involved migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Italy or Europe in general. But it is not only the sea that claims the lives of desperate African migrants. Recently it was reported that about 30 nationals of the republic of Niger including women and children were feared to have died of thirst after the vehicle they were traveling in to Algeria en route to Europe broke down in the Sahara Desert.

Frankly, migration is vital to human survival. Without migration human beings would not have been able to colonize the earth, as they have done. The human race has settled in virtually all the habitable parts of the globe because of our ability to relocate when the need arises. Though the substance of migration has not changed, today it is classified into legal and illegal. Some people think the term illegal migration is improper. They prefer the terms irregular migration or undocumented migration.

We do know that 500 years ago when Europeans came to Africa, the Americas and Asia to trade, rob and conquer they were not called illegal migrants but explorers, discoverers and missionaries. Nice and glorious names indeed. Anyway, call it what you will, here we are not interested in diction or semantics but in the substance of the issue.

Why do our African brothers and sisters plus other underprivileged people of the world take the dangerous ‘back way’ journey to Europe undaunted by even the latest disasters? The answers are not hard to come by.

The present political and economic configuration of the planet is a perfect catalyst for illegal migration. When wealth and power is concentrated in the hands of a few monopolists cornered in one part or negligible parts of the earth, we can only expect that the deprived majority would strive by all means to access the oases. After all, the migrants are not demanding a pound of flesh from the rich world; they are only requesting their fair share. If the world’s economic system continues to be built on the current rules of exploitation, elevating the wealthy and pushing more than half of humanity into poverty and subjugation, illegal migration would increase with greater frequency and intensity. The dispossessed people of Africa and other parts of the earth would naturally be tempted to move to the richer EU and North America in search of better lives.

Although the world’s overall financial playing field is not the least level, the developed countries are not entirely to blame. Most governments of less developed countries either do not have the capacity or the resolve to lift up the welfare of their citizens. In some extreme cases both capacity and resolve are absent. This could be depicted in their lukewarm commitment to improving health, education, employment opportunities, human rights and other basic essentials necessary for good living. Never mind the scarce resources of these countries; the leaders’ standard of living is at par if not better than those of their counterparts in the opulent countries. They use state resources to live lives of luxury far removed from the daily struggles of their people. Magnificent palaces, fleets of flashy cars, expensive holidays as well as costly and superfluous personal security networks are some of their trademarks. They have perfected the former colonial masters’ oppressive systems to incredible levels. In effect these leaders are behaving like ‘local colonialists’. Is it not funny that some of them are richer than their countries? Often the sacrifices they preach and demand from their citizens are hardly seen in their own actions.

It seems the national cake is shared only by the rulers and their close relatives and associates. They hang on to power at all cost, even if that means setting their nations literary on fire. Just look at what is happening to war ravaged countries.

The national health and education systems are left to operate below standard because the elite have no interest in them. They and their children hardly go to public health facilities and their children are sent abroad for studies. Whilst children of the rich and politically well-connected have lucrative jobs waiting for them, for the masses employment opportunities are not easy to come by. Many competent and qualified young men and women are denied employment just because they are perceived to belong to the wrong side of the political divide. Respect for human rights is virtually nonexistent. People live in fear of arbitrary arrest and the justice system is far from near perfect. The powerful are never guilty and the weak are never innocent. In some countries senseless conflicts and civil war is the order of the day. Women are systematically raped and children forced into being child soldiers. As long as this remains the situation, the people left in the cold will think of migration as an option. They have lost both faith and hope in their governments’ ability or will to transform their lives.

The situation for the masses is further compounded by the stringent immigration laws of the rich countries. Their conditions are too tough in terms of visa fees and other guarantees that are almost impossible to meet. In practice, visa migration has been intentionally framed to favor only the well-off and well-placed. The less fortunate are left out. Even students are now finding it increasingly difficult to cross borders. It is like the affluent nations welcome only the rich and skillful people of the poorer nations. They are trying to build a world where freedom of movement is solely for a chosen few. The rich countries would not give their poorer brothers a free pass but they enthusiastically open their borders to the poor people’s gold, diamond, oil, uranium, copper and any other resources they could rob them of. Where is our love for democracy and respect for human rights?

The rich North must open up its borders to humanity. The current immigration laws which give priority to the rich and skilled people of the South only accelerate social injustice and rob the South of the much needed skilled persons for its development. The North’s immigration policies have cost the South thousands of teachers, nurses and doctors, and other well educated professionals.

To minimize illegal migration, governments need to devise more practical initiatives that would convince their people that they have nothing to lose in working at home. Our heads of government must scale down the resources they are spending on themselves and take greater interest in the welfare of their people. Of course nobody says that government officials should live wretched lives but it is also true that they should not be well-fed at the expense of the very people they claim to represent. It is good to remind them that the success of a nation is not judged by the flamboyance of the few rich but by the improved standard of living of the masses. There must be more social justice. The people must have more jobs that honor the dignity of labor. Human rights must be respected; opportunities for success, education and other social amenities must be decentralized. The city must stop being the cornerstone of governments’ development priories. The more resources we spend on the city at the expense of the countryside the more we are escalating rural poverty and urban poverty as well. Because when rural livelihoods breakdown, people are forced to move to the towns which are in most cases ill-prepared for them. This pushes the already stretched resources to breaking point. The ultimate result is the drive to migrate.

Partly due to unfriendly government policies many Africans now believe that the grass is greener outside Africa. Though we are everyday told that Africa is emerging and economically growing fast, believe me many of our people do not believe this narrative. Their pockets are as empty as before. And more importantly they have lost hope in their future in Africa and Africa’s future. The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade like rickety boat expeditions across the Mediterranean is enough prove our people’s desperation.

However, it would be wrong to assume that governments are entirely responsible for or have all the solutions to illegal migration. We the people also have an equally important role to play. We must deliver ourselves from our seemingly irrational love for money. We have become so money-minded that, greed is to us, a virtue. Some of the people, who risk their lives yearly to across deserts and seas, are not in any way genuine migrants. They are just people who want too much, too soon. There are some of us who want to get rich quick with little legitimate effort. The craze for easy wealth is a big catalyst for illegal migration.

People world over must cleansing their souls of greed and learn to be patient enough in their money making enterprises. We must reckon with the fact that there is more to life than empire building. After all many have made it in their countries without traveling abroad. Let us endeavor to be job creators instead of job seekers and strive hard to push poverty beyond reach. Let every citizen of African learn a skill or trade which they can meaningfully use to improve the lives of their immediate community. If all of us develop the necessary and relevant skills to transform our communities, the world would be a better place and borders would shrink. We must find a way of shattering the irony of Africa. Whilst our countries are almost virgin lands teeming with abundant human and natural resources; millions of people are without work or underemployed. When this paradox is eventually solved, Africa will produce less and less illegal migrants.

Our people in the Diaspora have a big role and opportunity in turning migration into an advantage for Africa. We have heard about brain drain. Now we want Diaspora Africa to turn the brain drain into a brain gain. They can come back to invest and use the knowledge and experience they got abroad to develop the continent. Already some brave Africans have started coming back home, leaving the dreams of Europe and America for the realities for Africa. Their expertise and money is improving lives by creating jobs and services to our people.

Any way the fact still remains that migration is not only spurred by economic reasons. No matter how well-off all parts of the world become, people would still find the need to visit other parts of their planet. It is a natural urge which cannot be suppressed easily. The universal solution is for all countries to realize and accept that humanity is more than the citizens of their artificial geopolitical territories. They must open up their borders to all peace loving people of the world. The more we embrace one another, the more we shall build a better world where each is his brother’s keeper.

* Abdoulie Sey is Senior Editor, Gambia Radio and Television Service



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