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Deadly migration: African countries should create better conditions for citizens, says Agbu


 Professor Osita Agbu

Professor Osita Agbu

The number of Nigerians and African citizens trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe has become quite alarming. Some African youths believe it is better anywhere outside the shores of their countries. On account of this, a clarion call has been made to them to desist from taking perilous journey through the Sahara Desert to Libya, en route Europe. A Professor of International Relations and Head, Division of International Politics, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Lagos, OSITA AGBU, in this interview with VICTORIA OJUGBANA, shared his views on how home governments can stem the tide.

What is the situation at home that is fueling this tide?
Our experience in Africa is that young Africans, who ordinarily are the most productive segment of society, are pushed by conditions at home to seek greener pastures across the waters. It has been calculated by the International Office of Migration (IOM) that about 458, 000 migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East have died, while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea, since 2015. This figure is, indeed, very alarming. It shows that something is wrong with the global architecture, the way it is unfolding.

A few days ago, some Nigerian women and youth deported from Libya told their stories. The single underlining factor in their stories is that ‘the journey is very dangerous, please do not embark on it.’ They said they were lucky to have returned alive. Some of them showed the gunshot wounds on their hands and legs and that the Libyan security forces treated them very harshly. At the end of the day, the whole exercise and journey was not worth it.

Some of the push factors that may have led African youth into this deadly adventure, include intractable conflicts like we have in Somalia and Southern Sudan, wars, persecution, marginalisation and very poor economic conditions at home that creates massive unemployment and underemployment.

In Nigeria, the poor management of its immense material and human resources, has today led the country into economic recession, to the extent that jobs are scarce and the Federal Government is having difficulty meeting its financial obligations. You can, therefore, imagine what the impact will be on the ordinary citizens on the streets. In short, the deteriorating economic condition in many African countries has contributed significantly to illegal or irregular attempts at migration to Europe and other supposedly greener pastures.

To stop this, government should try, as much as possible, to get this message across to the youth while at the same time, do all it can to generate employment and keep them engaged.It is understandable that migrants from war-ravaged countries in the Middle East are eager to migrate to other more stable regions of the world. But for African countries, South of the Sahara, it is sometimes difficult to understand why governments cannot provide the enabling environment to keep their populations employed and productive at home.

Migration, as a phenomenon in the 21st Century, is a very complex issue that at once encapsulates human rights concerns, economic permutations, labour shortages, unemployment, brain-drain, brain-gain, multiculturalism, integration matters, flows of refugees and asylum seekers, as well as concerns about terrorism.

You can, therefore, see that we have a global development in its current form that requires concerted global action. At the level of the African governments and countries, the advice is for them to strive to improve the living conditions of their people in a way that the basic necessities are provided, and opportunities created for dignified labour. This is the solution that people usually offer. And if they are able to do this, it will reduce the number of people desperate and wanting to go to Europe and other places around the world. If you do not have skills or contacts that can rehabilitate you, you do not have any business embarking on such perilous journey. This is because you could fall into the hands of criminal gangs in the dessert or the Mediterranean Sea, who may rob you, use you for organ harvesting and leave you for dead. It is, indeed, a very perilous journey, and people should desist from it.

There is, therefore, the need for citizen education, to the extent that governments are able to impress it upon their peoples that it is not all that glitters that is gold. And that it is possible to improve at home, if one is not greedy. Agreed that the pull factors of well paved roads, manicured gardens and stable electricity supply and seamless transportation are strong in luring our young ones abroad, the downside of being a stranger exposed to all sorts of danger, including the loss of life in seeking illegal entry to Europe through North Africa, for example, should be enough to dissuade individuals from taking that road. We are all conversant with the tales of woe and anguish that our youth tell upon returning or being deported from Europe, or Libya. Many come back with nothing, except for the clothes on their backs, having exhausted all their money, while others return with gunshot wounds from Libya. Regrettably, others never come back at all, because they are dead.

For the migrants, many of whom are illegal, who are already in say, Europe, countries there have a responsibility to treat the refugees humanely, until they can either be integrated into society or sent back home. It suffices to opine that we all live in a highly integrated world today that has encouraged the massive movements of capital, technology and peoples. Whereas the movement of capital and technology has been beneficial to the rich countries much more than others, and are allowed easy entry in and out of these countries, the movement of labour on the other hand has increasingly been a subject of restrictions at the borders, resulting in illegal or irregular attempts to cross borders into the richer countries.

This development creates a political economy of its own that revolves around transnational criminal organisations that engage in human smuggling, human trafficking and drug trafficking. My point is that the migrant problem is not only an African problem, but also a global one. Therefore, all countries must come together to address it. It is one of the negative effects of globalisation, just as terrorism, indeed, an anti-thesis, in the sense that instead of opening borders and access, as dictated by the capitalist logic of liberalism, the rich countries are today creating more barriers against people, who desire to move, and also against perceived terrorists out of fear, who may want to gain entry for unholy activities.

And how about the rationale of Diaspora Remittances; is it worth it?
I also wish to add that migration is not all bad. It is said that between five to 12 per cent of the population in the industrialised countries are migrants; and that of about 34 million foreign-born workers in the United States, 11 million are illegal. Indeed, we also know that we have significant Diaspora Nigerians in the United States and Europe, whose combined remittances back home about 10 years ago amounted to over N10b. In India, it is said that remittances of the Indian Diaspora is factored into the national budget. Indeed, the initial foreign settlers in the New World or the United States, Australia and Canada were mainly from Europe. Therefore, people have moved all through history, from one part of the world to the other, seeking for better life.

In fact, it is true to say that people often move from dry, infertile areas with little or no water to areas where there is plenty of water. Indeed, there is often a positive relationship between large populations and availability of water and rainfall, and dry lands/infertility and scanty populations.

Therefore, in the West coast of Africa, for example, one expects to have more populations in the southern parts, where the rainfall is more plentiful. It suffices to say that since we are in a globalised world, the governments in Africa should find some strategy to harness more effectively the resources from its Diaspora towards national development.

This does not imply that it should encourage illegal migration, but that rather, it should equally have a strategy for dissuading, as well as, protecting and settling deported migrants, who are their citizens.

In this article:
Professor Osita Agbu
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