A migrant reacts on being rescued by the MV Aquarius, after 191 people and two corpses were recovered from international waters in the Mediterranean Sea about 22 miles north of Sabrata, Libya. File photo: Sima Diab/AP
Europe is only interested in how efficiently it can keep people out, but not how to make their lives bearable in their countries of origin, writes Shannon Ebrahim.

There is just no stopping the flood of humanity leaving sub-Saharan Africa for Europe’s shores. It may no longer pervade our television screens, but the reality is that there is a 30% increase this year in the number of migrants arriving from North Africa on Italy’s shores.

Try as they may, European countries will not be able to stop the mass exodus moving from countries of relative deprivation in Africa to the European continent. The former colonial powers no longer have strongman Muammar Gaddafi in place to bottle up the migrant problem and control Libya’s borders.

Thanks to Nato’s bombing of Libya in 2011, Libya is now a country close to lawlessness, without a central government capable of effectively implementing policies to prevent the exodus of the poor and desperate. Perhaps Europe should have heeded Gaddafi’s warning in his final prophetic speech.

“Now listen, you people of Nato. You’re bombing a wall which stood in the way of African migration to Europe and in the way of al-Qaeda terrorists. This wall was Libya. You’re breaking it. You’re idiots, and you will burn in hell for thousands of migrants from Africa and for supporting al-Qaeda. It will be so. I never lie. And I do not lie now.”

Gaddafi knew what he was talking about. Three years before that speech he had struck a deal with Italian President Silvio Berlusconi worth $5billion (R68 billion) in investments over 25 years. In return, Gaddafi agreed to toughen security measures and joint maritime patrols in order to stem the flow of illegal migrants. With the destruction of the country and Gaddafi’s execution, the deal fell by the wayside.

Italy’s current prime minister, Paolo Gentiloni, struck a deal last month with Libyan leader Fayez Sarraj to stop smugglers and to train the Libyan coast guard, but Sarraj can hardly claim to control Libya’s borders or territory. Europe will have no choice but to deal with the consequences of Africa’s underdevelopment and the yearning of its people for a better life.

Pulling up the drawbridges is not a sustainable long-term solution, but state building in Libya, Niger, Mali, Somalia, Eritrea and South Sudan is. When will the Europeans get it right? The response to this crisis of human insecurity has led only to weak stop-gap measures so far. Italy has launched a new fund to help African countries control their borders, but walls and border patrols won’t stop the root causes of migration. Development and good governance will.

The route across the Mediterranean Sea from Libya to Italy is now the route of choice and 181000 people made this journey last year, 5000 of whom died in the process. 2016 proved the deadliest year on record for people crossing the Mediterranean Sea, although this year is proving even worse.

It is just that the media have grown weary of showing the now familiar scenes of mountains of orange life jackets on the shores of Italy and Greece. Anyone who thinks that the migrants are simply opportunistic in their search for a better life couldn’t be more wrong. People are fleeing absolute desperation and many are raped, beaten and tortured as they pass through Libya.

One can fully understand the motivation of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in refusing to take any more funding from the EU and its member states because of its damaging deterrence policies. MSF has been scathing about the intensifying attempts to push people and their suffering away from European shores. In addition to sub-Saharan Africa, the migrants are also fleeing wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

MSF has castigated the European Commission’s proposal to replicate the EU-Turkey logic across more than 16 countries in Africa and the Middle East. The proposal is to impose trade and development aid cuts on countries that do not stem migration to Europe or facilitate forcible returns, and rewarding those that do. Among the potential partners are Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan and Afghanistan - four of the top 10 refugee-countries.

Clearly Europe is only interested in how efficiently it can keep people out, but not how to make their lives bearable in their countries of origin. Outsourcing migration to countries like Turkey has become a popular option, but there is nothing remotely humanitarian about such policies.

It is time for Europe to pay its dues. It is time to assist in the development of Africa. It is time to end its military campaigns that destroy countries of the Middle East. It is time for building and not destroying. Therein lies the panacea to one of the worst human tragedies in modern history which, let me say, is far from over.

* Ebrahim is group foreign editor.

The Sunday Independent