Columns / Discourse / April 23, 2014

Just across the Mediterranean

On Feb. 24, over 300 hundred migrants from across Africa overran security fences that divide Morocco from the small Spanish enclave of Melilla. 

Looking for better jobs and economic opportunities, these migrants’ stories have been largely overlooked by news media focusing on border security and immigrant integration into European societies.

African economic refugees headed to Europe mostly go one of three routes once they’ve reached northwestern Africa: from Mauritania to the Spanish-owned Canary Islands, from Morocco to Ceuta and Melilla or they travel in boats and other contraptions from Tunisia and Libya to the tiny island-nation of Malta.

Even though the sub-Saharan African economy more than doubled over the past seven years while the European economy has increased by a mere 15 percent (mostly before the Euro crisis), there are still great disparities in perceived employment opportunities.

And yet when migrants arrive, they do not get such a great deal. Jim Courtright, a Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal, reports that there is a phrase in pulaar — Barsa walla Barka — which translates as Barcelona or Heaven, and refers to the pirogues that Senegalese migrants take up the coast toward Spain.

Courtright, who did independent research on the topic, further reported these migrant boat journeys have the same life expectancy as historic Transatlantic slave ships.

Clearly the Senegalese government is not doing enough to tackle this problem, yet the government faces the same budget constrictions as most other developing nations. Education on the dangers of such migration is likely the best cost- and life-effective initiative the government might have on hand.

This is not to say the indigenous European side is entirely dismissible. Yet it is not too encouraging either.

As Africans and Middle Easterners migrate to Europe in increasing numbers, they face a widening backlash from Europe’s public and politicians.

Courtright also conveyed a story from a friend visiting Spain of happening across cave-dwelling Moroccan migrants, who were selling drugs to get by and avoid detection.

Selling drugs goes directly against Islam’s edicts, yet the unfortunate reality is that undocumented migrants must find any means of income possible to simply survive in their new nation. Any visitor to Paris can tell you about the African migrants

In 2010, German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that German multiculturalism had “utterly failed.” Merkel put the onus on immigrants to integrate into German society, which contains over four million non-native immigrants.

In March of this year, the infamous far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders told his supporters he would work to ensure the Netherlands had “fewer Moroccans.” 

Europeans have often lorded themselves over their American cousins for their comparatively low-key racial history.  However the differences lie in two historical facts: Europe’s comparatively low migration rate and America’s brutal domestic slavery.

Thus, a much more concerted effort by European societies needs to be made to expand their nationalities to include citizens from different ethnic backgrounds.

Ironically, American anti-terrorism efforts in France have resulted in what is possibly America’s coolest international initiative, rap exchanges. These initiatives also highlight Islam’s role in hip-hop’s roots.

So the ambassadorial logic goes, promoting a brand of music that arose in response to and in rejection of the American government sends the message that America is truly a free and diverse place.

Yet it is North African and European governments that can and should do the most in seeking to alleviate the suffering felt by these immigrants, including more rigorous coast patrols and more leniency toward and support for migrants, once they have reached Europe.

Ultimately, however, the only way to truly dispel the problems attached to this migratory route is to promote economic opportunities in Africa and multiculturalism in Europe. The world isn’t going to go backward on this issue, and it’s up to us to prove this the reactionary right.

Tom Courtright
Tom Courtright is a columnist for The Knox Student, primarily covering Africa. He grew up in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania and is currently studying international relations, history and journalism. He begins his volunteer term with Peace Corps in September 2014, on the Pacific island of Fiji.

Tags:  Africa economy emigrant EU Europe immigrant Jim Courtright migrant migration Morocco Peace Corp Barsa walla Barka Spain

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