Migration to the north: a season of hope and death

[[[ image 2-small left]]]Meron Semedar is a One Young World Ambassador from Eritrea. Due to the closure of the only University and hopeless country situations, he was forced to leave Eritrea with many other students crossing the border to neighbouring Sudan. Meron is a Civil Engineer by profession and currently assists in the resettlement program of Eritrean refugees in California, U.S.A.

The rising death toll of refugees in the Mediterranean

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This month, UNHCR have reported that as many as 500 migrants are feared dead in the Mediterranean Sea. Most will have been en route to Italy from Libya. Most will have once called North Africa home. If the death toll of 500 is confirmed, the UNHCR deems this incident to be the worst tragedy in the Mediterranean Sea in the last 12 months.  

Hundreds of thousands of refugees are stranded in places such as Sudan, Libya and Egypt and are awaiting better weather in order to begin the journey across the Mediterranean. Because of this season’s improved weather conditions, late April is known to be the start of the migration season across the Mediterranean Sea. Tragedies like this one cannot continue to happen. More must be done.

This latest incident is a warning for the European Union to increase its sea patrols. For the majority who want to take the route to Europe that season starts now. The media, rescue ships and coast guards must give special attention to North African migrants, particularly at this time.

What could be done

Addressing the root cause of migration on every country should be the start and tackling it with a greater approach.

Most North African migrants come from either a fragile or a failed state, hence most of them are refugees. Indefinite national service in Eritrea, instability and civil war in the Darfur and South Sudan, civil war in Yemen, festering wounds in Egypt, ethnic based instability in Ethiopia, Al-Shabaab terrorist attacks in Somalia, and the ongoing conflicts known as the ‘Syrian crisis’ are among the key push factors.

EU needs to give strong attention to Libya and by all costs assist the Libyan people building an inclusive government. By doing so, only the Libyan government can stop the smugglers route. When Muammar Gaddafi was in power, little to almost no migrants used to cross the Mediterranean from Libya. With the ousting of the former Libyan dictator the migration flow grew by thousands.

In collaboration with EU, the US needs to target and eliminate ISIS in Libya. ISIS have built a strong hold in Libya and the number of people who have been kidnapped and killed by ISIS since last year is growing quickly. The victims are mostly migrants trying to cross to Italy.

UNHCR needs to collaborate with the governments of Egypt and the Sudan and in doing so, create safe refugee camps and find a safe means of resettlement for many refugees before they embark on a perilous journey.

If refugees can afford to pay smugglers, which are their only means of hope and getting to their dream destination currently, they can afford to pay their own airfare. Hence UNHCR should rally upon just finding them a nation that is willing to take refugees. Such money is usually channeled from family members in the developed world.

Resettlement Setback - EU and US

As a highly criticized event in March, the EU and Turkey agreed to stop refugees from crossing to enter European nations. The agreed plan is to deport asylum seekers who enter Greece back into Turkey. In return, Turkey gets financial assistance, a visa free travel for its citizens to EU nations, and discussions are under way for Turkey to become a member of the EU.

The same month, the US Government House Judiciary Committee passed H.R. 4731- the “Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act of 2016. The proposed legislation would dismantle the US Refugee Admissions Program, which has been a critical humanitarian and diplomacy tool for over three decades.

With more than 60 million refugees and displaced people around the world, it is critically important that the US and EU demonstrate global leadership by welcoming refugees. What refugees need is a place to call home, an opportunity to rebuild themselves and find ways of overcoming their past. Thus developed nations need to come together and share the burden of resettling refugees.