Supervisor Elham AbolFateh
Editor in Chief Mohamed Wadie

Migration Trends Across the Mediterranean & the Bitter Reality, Op-ed

Sun 03 Sep 2023 | 02:31 PM
Abdul Haq Azouzi

The United Nations indicates that there are more than 258 million migrants around the world, which represents 3.4 percent of the world’s total population, and their financial remittances represent about $450 billion, which is about 9 percent of the global gross product. The issue of migration grabs one of the largest areas of concern to both the private and public interests. Public policies are drawn to it, and huge budgets are spent on this file. Unfortunately, some international waters, such as the Mediterranean, have become a graveyard for hundreds of migrants who are transported by death boats from the southern bank to the northern Mediterranean, fleeing poverty or wars and in search of a decent life. In recent weeks, 41 migrants died after a ship carrying them sank off the Italian island of Lampedusa. The sinking of a boat sailing off the coast of Cape Verde also led to the death of more than 60 migrants, according to a statement by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). According to survivor testimonies reported by the Senegalese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other sources, the boat sailed from the Fez-Boi region (west) on the Senegalese coast on July 10 with 101 passengers on board. Not to mention that since the beginning of this year, 901 bodies of migrants who drowned off the Tunisian coast have been found, most of them coming from sub-Saharan countries. During the same period, 34,290 migrants were rescued and intercepted, while about 90,000 migrants arrived in Italy, whose closest coast is 150 kilometers from Tunisia.

There are bitter facts and frightening numbers provided from time to time by recent United Nations reports regarding the movement of illegal migrants and refugees across the Mediterranean. All of these numbers suggest a tragic increase in the number of deaths, meaning that Mediterranean waters constitute a real cemetery for immigrants coming from Africa, Arab countries, and the Middle East.

Migrants who attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea through countries such as Libya are exposed to various methods of violence, such as kidnapping, torture, and extortion.

To make matters worse, European countries are putting in place a series of endless laws and various strict measures to prevent migrants from arriving in Europe or expel them, if they ever make it there. Italy adopted a law early last February that restricts the work of humanitarian rescue ships by assisting dilapidated migrant boats in the Mediterranean. The EU countries have begun to use drones, underwater surveillance devices, three-dimensional radars, and advanced sensors to raise the level of security on their external borders, but all of this makes the border areas more dangerous for people. It also exacerbates violence and gives border guards great power.

Many European countries are also trying to develop artificial intelligence (AI) in arrests of illegal migrants on their borders; however, international experts warn that this approach poses the risk of violating international humanitarian laws, such as violating private life, and what could result in malfunctions in algorithms and others, in addition to “a lack of clarity on the level of responsibility.” It is also capable of dramatically increasing risks to security and safety, violating civil rights, sowing suspicion and losing confidence among the public, not to mention spreading misleading news that may cause all kinds of strife.

The biggest issue today is that European countries do not agree on mechanisms to rescue migrants across the sea and ensure their arrival to land. We know that it is necessary to rescue people in danger at sea without delay. This is a basic rule taught to students in the international maritime law. But the concern of every country is to militarize its borders, whether on land or at sea, to prevent the arrival of illegal immigrants. Every country is creative in setting strict laws and procedures to stop the advance of unwanted immigrants ... and I say “undesirables” here because when some areas experience a shortage of competencies, the immigrants here become desirable, as is the case with the health sector.

For example, there is a trend in the French government that aims to facilitate the arrival of foreign doctors by granting them a residence card. This measure increases the fears of the Maghreb and Francophone African countries, which supply French hospitals with workers in the health sector, of a widespread “plunder” of their educated and skilled class in this sector. These countries invested seven to ten years on health workers in universities and hospitals in teaching and training to eventually become vulnerable to the "desired" migration. In the United Kingdom, one in every three doctors working in public hospitals is a foreign doctor, most of whom come from India, Egypt and Nigeria.

Logic requires that countries in the northern Mediterranean adopt mechanisms that contribute to the humanization of migration by facilitating the transfer of information, assimilating migrants and exchanging experiences, reducing the negative factors that prevent citizens from living decently in their countries of origin, and creating conditions that enable all migrants to enrich societies through their human and economic and social capabilities, and integrating them to drive development at the local, national, regional and global levels.

But the measures these countries are taking to manage migration, control the flows of asylum seekers, limit the arrival of "unwanted" migrants, and encourage those who are desired to ensure the continuation of their health systems or engineering and research capabilities that suffer from structural problems. It is a very serious issue and undermines the humanizing immigration that International conventions call for. Immigration must be a mean to achieve development in the countries of the South and not a reason to deplete their capabilities ... such measures will lead to a mass migration of doctors, pharmacists, engineers, and prominent professors from the southern Mediterranean countries; to reduce the opportunities of the residents of some Maghreb countries and Sub-Saharan Africa to obtain treatment, and to tiptoe a formed and educated elite that these countries need in development processes.