After the Vietnam war, starting in the 1970s through the 1990s, a wave of desperate immigrants from Vietnam and surrounding countries referred to as « boat people » made their attempts to become refugees in another country by piling on small boats not fit for sea travel in mass numbers in an attempt to be rescued in waters outside of their country’s territory. This practice is extremely dangerous and those who risk the journey most likely know that they are most likely to find death than they are to find salvation.
Though the wave of boat people immigration from Asia began to taper off in the 1990s, we are seeing a new wave of boat people today, this time coming from Africa and travelling the Mediterranean Sea. As spring brings warmer weather to the Mediterranean, more people are making the journey and Italy is seeing a spike in these boats tempting their fate. Even with the better weather, this practice is still extremely dangerous and there is no guarantee of safe passage. In 2015 alone, already an estimated 1,700 have perished trying to make the crossing.
Why take the risk?
An increase in violent conflicts in Africa, the Middle East and South East Asia have pushed people away from their homelands in search of a better life in a more affluent Europe. Many of the refugees have come from Libya which is experiencing a period of lawlessness which allows smugglers to operate freely on the coasts and put people-filled boats out to sea. These people are most often times not Libyan by birth, but have migrated from Sub-Saharan Africa or Western Africa to Libya in search of a better life, not for a way to Europe, but as times got tougher, they began to look for another option and a new life on another continent. Of those migrating by way of the Mediterranean Sea, 80% are coming from the Libyan coasts.
There has been a swell in population in the Western regions of Africa, but a decrease in available farmland which limits the economic security for the people living there. Migration is spurred on because people can not make the money they need to survive. However, not all migration is voluntary. There has been a shocking discovery that some women aboard these boats are actually being trafficked for sex work in Europe and are making the voyage against their will. Some women who do make the journey voluntarily are so desperate for the better life that they will risk the perilous journey while pregnant in order to give birth on European soil.
The big question left to answer facing all of these problems is who will take responsibility for these deplaced people? In April of this year at the EU Summit in Brussels, it was stated that the EU would only take 5,000 migrants as refugees. This means that there will be a probable repatriation of many of the migrants coming to European soil. 5,000 is not when placed next to the estimated 150,000 who survived their journey made it to Italy in 2014. Already this year, and estimated 36,000 have reached Italy, Greece and Malta. If the EU will not accept the migrants into their countries, it must find away to reverse the flow of immigrants into the territory by addressing the « push » factors that make these people feel that they have no other option than to leave their own countries. Fabrice Leggeri, the head of Frontex, the EU border control agency, stated that he will make cooperation with countries such as Libya a priority in order to reduce these push factors and to limit the number of people dying at sea. The EU needs to understand that this problem will not simply stop on its own. The EU needs to send support, but in capacity building and in monetary aid to these countries as well as work to cooperate in order to change a broken system where people are willing to risk their lives in order to search for a better life.