The small Italian island of Lampedusa, with a population of around 6000, has turned into the epicentre of the European migrant crisis, with an estimated 10,000 migrants arriving on its shores in recent weeks. The Italian Red Cross was reported to be dealing with up to 2500 people at a reception centre built for just 400. As overwhelming as these numbers seem, they are a small part of a much bigger picture, with over 127,000 refugees and migrants arriving this year, more than double the arrivals during the same period last year, according to government data. The arrivals in Lampedusa have prompted a wave of angry responses with local residents taking to the streets to protest the arrivals, while Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister, Matteo Salvini has called the arrivals an “act of war” and “the death of Europe”. Meanwhile the Italian PM, Giorgia Meloni, elected on a right-wing platform to cut down irregular migration, has put the blame for the crisis on migrant smugglers and even had the audacity to claim that Africa, where many of the migrants are coming from, was in fact a rich continent. While the PM’s comments are not as inflammatory as her deputy’s, they are a good deal more ridiculous.
A more sober tone was struck by the head of the Central African Republic, Faustin Archange Touadera, at the UN General Assembly this week. Touadera pointed to how the West’s legacy of slavery, colonization and the plunder of natural resources in Africa, highlighting how these phenomena have created the conditions fueling the migrant crisis European politicians are lamenting today. He also called for giving Africa a greater say in how to solve the migrant crisis. The West’s reckless greenhouse gas emissions and other environmentally unfriendly policies, which disproportionately impact developing countries, can also be added to the list of its sins in Africa. Then there is also the dark history of Western military adventurism and intervention in Africa. It is quite ironic how many Western leaders backed the toppling of the Gaddafi regime in Libya, purportedly to defend Western values, and are now seeing that country become a key transshipment point for those fleeing Africa for Europe, which we are being led to believe is leading to the latter’s death.
If countries like Italy are truly serious about coming up with a permanent solution to the migrant crisis, this will require fundamental changes in their policies towards Africa and the developing countries in general. This means taking issues like climate change and economic inequality more seriously. There is also a need to listen to African leaders about the needs of their respective countries.