Migrants fleeing Africa – Balancing instincts and reason

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I listened to Katie Hopkins’ guest slot on LBC last Sunday. One of the topics she discussed was the increasing number of migrants from North Africa who are dying in the Mediterranean sea as they desperately seek for a new life in Europe.

In a conversation with a passionate caller named “Ronke”, Hopkins outlined her plan to deal with the influx of migrants: implement a Australian-style policy, where boats are towed back to their origins with “gunships”. Her position was that saving migrants will only encourage more to take the perilous trip to Europe, an unsustainable reality. Ronke furiously lambasted Hopkins for her “disgusting” position, reminding her that the migrants are human beings, with families, friends, children etc. We have a duty to help them, she said.

When asked to delineate a plan for dealing with these migrants however, Ronke seemed flustered. She proposed “not calling them cockroaches”, not dehumanise them and “to speak” to the North African governments. Hopkins gave a unrelenting rebuttal: “If you are going to trot off and have a word with their governments, if you think that’s a solution for those 700 people who can’t swim who were in a boat that capsized, I think you need to get back and read a bit more of your Guardian newspaper.” Harsh, but fair. Ronke’s call was all well and good when it came to displaying compassion for the migrants; her argument fell apart when a clear plan was demanded.

In many ways, Hopkins and Ronke’s debate on the issue of migrants encapsulated the problem European countries face today. On one hand lies the human instinct of compassion, and on the other the harsh reality of cash-strapped European countries unwilling to receive what could potentially be hundreds of thousands of migrants fleeing North Africa.

To solve this problem of African migrants dying at sea therefore requires a compromise between the unrealistic vision of rescuing all migrants and the immoral position of ignoring the plight of so many North Africans. What needs to be done is European leaders must recognise that the source of the problem is two-fold.

First off, it is important to remember that North Africans are being forced to make the perilous trip because of dire situations in their countries. They are being terrorised by war, persecution and starvation, and their lives are so bad that they are willing to jump onto a boat which will traverse an element that will surely claim their lives should they fall into it. The only way migrants will stop resorting to risking their lives at sea is if their conditions at home improve. European countries now unquestionably have a direct stake in these people’s welfare, because of the many migrants perishing in its waters. European leaders must therefore exert diplomatic pressure on the African governments, who are clearly failing in their responsibilities to their people. Pressure should be put on them to improve the conditions of its people, and to provide assistance to those who are in need of help. Pressure should come in the form of clear threats of economic punishments, such as trade quotas and tourism bans, their implementation dependent on, let’s say, migrant numbers continuing to increase in the next year.

But, migrants will inevitably try to reach the shores of Europe, which is why governments should maintain an official policy of not accepting migrants to its shores. The priority should undoubtedly be the lives of North Africans, which is why all must be discouraged from making the trip. Although this might seem a morally questionable plan, one that Ronke undoubtedly abhors, it is the only way that migrants will be saved from drowning in the Mediterranean. This policy however doesn’t mean that there should be no maritime patrols looking to save migrants’ lives. Operations should be increased with extra funding and an increase in personnel.

The number of migrants must be monitored then used as pressure on North African governments. A ruthless and uncompromising attitude must be taken to these governments. With every migrant, the economic burden on Europe increases, so this burden must be shifted to the African countries themselves in the form of sanctions. Only then will their governments regard the welfare of potential migrants as important, and only then will the number of migrants decrease.