The number of Africans migrating to Europe this year by boat has already passed 100,000. This number eclipses the past record for migrants in a year—62,000 in 2011. Italy, the most popular destination for migrants, has developed refugee camps and has dedicated rescue forces to oversee the dangerous journey. However, authorities remain overwhelmed in the wake of thousands of illegal immigrants and hundreds of casualties at sea.
As the numbers rise for refugees traveling across the Mediterranean, so do the number of deaths. Last April, over 300 perished when their rickety boat sunk near the coast of Malta. For many captains, the dangers of overloading boats with refugees is compensated by small bribes from each passenger. The boats are filled with people standing shoulder to shoulder, unable to move, until no space is left.
From Somalia, migrants attempt to escape anarchistic warlord rule. From Eritrea, many wish to leave the totalitarian rule of Isaias Afwerki, which many have compared to North Korea’s leadership. In Chad and Niger, civilians seek to escape internal conflict and famine. Many of these migrants travel for weeks to reach the Mediterranean, leaving their homes thousands of miles away. Those with money might take buses, but many find themselves walking or begging for rides. Trekking in groups of a few dozen, they face weeks of heat stroke and malnutrition to get to the North African ports. Casualties are an unfortunately frequent occurrence in the journey across the Saharan desert.
Those that reach the Mediterranean ports could be forgiven for believing they have reached the end of their travel; however, it is in the 200-mile boat ride from Libya to Italy that the most casualties are suffered. In early 2014, in recognition of this humanitarian crisis, the Italian government assigned five rescue convoys to patrol the waters between its borders and Africa. Still, Italy and other European Union (EU) nations are in constant conflict over who should bare the burden of housing refugees. Many European nations want nothing to do with the phenomenon, and have left Italy to deal with the problems. With many of the migrants coming from former Italian colonies (like Somalia and Libya), some have demanded that Italy handle the situation independently.
For those that safely arrive in Italy and receive asylum, the task of restarting life is not easy. Some meet other family members that live in the area, while others live in dorms or camps with hundreds of refugees and poor living conditions.
The current exodus conjures images of when Europeans forced Africans to come live in Europe a mere 200 years ago. Unfortunately, today the short-term memory of these colonial empires has left many African refugees to invite themselves. Without attention from local governments, the problem threatens to persist. Both Italian and North African governments, with the support of the EU, must establish a mediated and secure method of traveling to Europe. Without this development, refugees will continue avoiding authorities at their own risk.