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Let's just say migrant deaths don't alarm us

 One of the twenty-seven unaccompanied minors aboard the Guardia di Finanza boat arrive at Italian island of Lampedusa on August 17, 2019. [AFP]

Pope Francis is ready for a vicious fight – first against Satan and then the many nations cautious to admit the rising migrant crisis in Europe.  

Last week, he was in Marseille, France, where he turned up the heat on countries in whose borders lots of migrants have been caught up between death at sea and ugly diplomatic rows.

In what could ignite a fresh clash of words, the Pontiff wants migrants – legal or illegal – received with open arms. In his view, they shouldn’t be considered victims of poverty but valuable individuals who can culturally enrich Europe and boost its dwindling populations.

His plain-text approach kind of pushes the European Union to ponder legal provisions that may simply be a path for the bloc to distribute migrants among nations. But even this route, the head of the Catholic Church says, shouldn’t deny a country the right to protect its borders.  

In the Pope’s words, immigration isn’t an emergency but “a reality of our times, a process that involves three continents around the Mediterranean and that must all now be governed with wise foresight, including a European response.”

Tunisia and Libya have been the main exit points for despairing young Africans seeking ‘greener pastures’ in Europe. There have been 1,800 migrant deaths in the central Mediterranean this year. Last year, 1,146 Africans drowned in under six months on this dangerous voyage.

The Pontiff’s call last week became a stark reminder of how unequal the world remains – and there’s a race element to it. When the Ukraine-Russia conflict started unfolding, there were grumbles after blacks were ill-treated in Kyiv.

Some were denied food, held at exit points and blocked from boarding trains as native Europeans in Ukraine enjoyed privileged treatment. Sadly, Africans, or blacks generally, have eternally found themselves marooned at the lower end of the social and political pecking order.  For the record, the discrimination against migrants in Europe may not always be States-sanctioned. Sometimes, it’s a response act of egocentrism by natives on a ‘fight for survival’ mode to protect their jobs, resources and security from a surging migrant population arriving almost daily. They see migrants as a lurking danger and time-bomb.

It’s absurd that Africans flee their mother countries because misrule has literally slayed opportunities. Impunity by the political class is unsurpassed. Military seizures, rights abuses and plunder of resources are the norm. Young dreamers are fed up and ready to row boats across the Mediterranean to the land of milk and honey.

It is not just the jobless fleeing socio-economic ruin. According to the Africa Union, 70,000 skilled professionals ditch Africa annually. Without working systems, Africans will still suffer at the hands of big brothers. Of the 28 poorest countries, 27 are in sub-Saharan Africa. We’re defined by our woes rather than abilities.   

Since the Pope spoke boldly in defence of African migrants, it is no surprise that no African leader has support his sentiments. It’s all but a deafening silence.

Last week at the UN General Assembly, Africa’s presidents did not broach this subject. They chose populism. Even those busy lifting visa requirements anyhow in their countries and shouting Pan-Africanism are merely touting power, not empowering their citizens.

Here’s my two cents. The African Union should drop its cry-baby style and pronounce itself on the Pope’s call. Let it rally global support towards humane treatment of migrants. If the AU can’t denounce elites for their responsibility in the mess, it should at least show solidarity with the thousands dying at sea every year.  

Granted, if we invest in social protection, develop rural economies, build good hospitals, schools and universities, provide security, create jobs and became food secure, Africans will find value living at home instead of crossing the Mediterranean. It is simple logic, not rocket science.

-The writer is a communications practitioner. X (Twitter): @markoloo

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