Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)
Ask any African why is he in Europe. His reply would be: The Africans are in Europe because the Europeans were in Africa. Nowadays we learn about one tragic incident after another involving Africans desperately trying to set foot on the European shores. They would risk their lives and life’s savings just to reach Europe. During this week, over 800 people lost their lives when a ship carrying migrants from Africa capsized. The horror that the men, women and children on board the ship must have went through is beyond imagination. What added salt to the wound is the fact that the ship sank when a cargo ship that was approaching the migrant’s ship touched it and it just simply sank to the bottom of the sea. However, there is another version claiming that when the merchant ship approached many of the migrants gathered at one side of the ship in the hope of being saved. Now, no seaman will dare to try to rescue any ship in the area and it is not because they don’t want to. Mariners and seafarers consider rescuing any ship a moral obligation and they consider it part of their job. But, merchant ships are not fit to rescue hundreds of people. There isn’t enough food, water or medical capabilities to cater to the needs for a large number of people. Considering the current global situation, it seems that we will continue to read about such tragedies. There are tens of millions in the African continent who want to escape from the miserable conditions at any cost. Ironically, many of the people who want to leave Africa don’t only come from war and poverty-stricken countries but there are many who hail from countries rich in many resources and from countries that are even members of the OPEC. The dilemma for Europe is that it only takes few hours from some North African countries to reach Europe. And there are thousands of shorelines in Northern Africa that simply can’t be monitored. Now the entire Libyan shoreline is wide open for any human trafficker to take advantage of the misery of the people seeking refuge in Europe. And Europe is stuck with many responsibilities regarding safeguarding their territorial waters and offering support to any refugee coming to its land. These refugees need medical care, financial support and housing. It is true that Europe and Europeans are hospitable, generous and tolerant toward newcomers but many European countries don’t have enough resources. Some European countries are faced with financial crisis and many people in these countries will not accept the increasing numbers of migrants to their countries. This can create unwanted friction between the locals and the newcomers. Now the Europeans are realizing the magnitude of the problem. It is causing national dilemma especially for countries close to the North African shores such as Italy and Greece. In other words, Europe is confronted with a humanitarian crisis. And many know that it is simply very difficult to stop human traffickers. But, if the trend of migrants riding the high seas to go to Europe is stopped, then this can cause international crisis. Africans will talk about the fact that Africans wanted to be in Europe because the Europeans came to Africa uninvited. The Europeans used African resources to build economic empires. What happened and what will happen in the Mediterranean is human tragedy that has no immediate solutions. And most likely the debate will continue among European countries. In these issues politics do play a big part. It is a rule in politics that if a crisis is not close to me then it is the problem of somebody else. Subsequently many migrants may not drown at sea but they may drown in the sea of politics. But at the end of the day, it is a shame to see people from Africa so desperate even though they come from a land that is rich in raw material, natural beauty, rivers, intelligent and hardworking people and many other resources. Why Africa is this way? It is called the Dark Continent but it sure deserves a bright future. Written by Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim. The European Dilemma reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim.