alexa Africa should oppose EU migrants’ law as it did Uhuru case - Daily Nation

Africa should oppose EU migrants’ law as it did Uhuru case

Friday October 31 2014

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Last week the El Pais newspaper in Spain published an astonishing photograph. Two golfers dressed in white stood out on the bright green foreground of one of the fairways of Club Campo de Golf.

In the background, perched precariously at the top of a six-metre high fence, were 11 men.

They were part of a much larger group of around 200 people who were attempting to scale the fence bordering Morocco, where they were residing in temporary camps waiting for a chance to flee to Europe from the Spanish enclave of Melilla.

It was a rare visual depiction of an otherwise hidden tragedy that is taking place daily on the Mediterranean littoral dividing Africa and Europe.

At least 130,000 people have successfully crossed the Mediterranean Sea this year. But between June and mid-September, more than 2,200 lost their lives attempting to make the journey, including 750 in just one week in September.

That already shocking number will, at least in the short-term, increase after a new European Union policy comes into force today.


Italian navy patrols on international waters off the Libyan coast, which were used to locate and rescue migrants, are being replaced. An operation led by Frontex, the EU’s border agency, will instead patrol the territorial waters of European states, particularly Italy.


The new operation will be cheaper and cover far less of the open sea than the previous one. Nor will the new EU operation have a search and rescue component.

As the British Prime Minister’s spokesperson put it, “Search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean have acted as a pull factor for illegal migration, encouraging people to make dangerous crossings in the expectation of rescue.” In other words, migrants will be left to die on the sea to deter others from following them.

In an editorial on Wednesday, the Financial Times argued that a more substantial, progressive policy needed to be adopted by the EU if the loss of life were to end. But there is little sign of such a policy being discussed.

Instead, the anti-immigration rhetoric continues to mount across Europe. Africans concerned about the fate of their kin attempting the treacherous sea journey should put little faith in the EU or its member states.

Rather than pinning her hopes on the EU, Nigerian lawyer Sede Alonge used a column in The Guardian a week ago to instead demand the African Union take responsibility for the mass loss of life in the Mediterranean. It is a year since the AU declared a day of mourning and promised urgent action after the death of 359 would-be migrants in one shipwreck off the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Ms Alonge is right to point out that there is little evidence of the AU having done much since.

The AU will doubtless argue that its efforts to encourage economic growth, nurture democracy and maintain peace across the continent would ultimately prevent migration.

Nor does the AU have the resources or the institutions to match its northern neighbour.

In any case, its individual member states, not least Kenya, already do far more than their European counterparts to provide safe havens to refugees fleeing war and famine. But more can be still be done.

For Kenyans, a tragedy in the Mediterranean may seem distant. But its origins are not so far removed from daily lives in Nairobi. While many of those drowning are fleeing wars in Syria and Iraq, a considerable proportion is trying to escape East Africa’s hidden crisis in Eritrea.

For obvious reasons, Kenya and its neighbours have been preoccupied with events in Somalia and the threat posed by Al-Shabaab.


But the ever-more authoritarian rule of President Isaias Afewerki is destabilising for the wider region and deserves serious attention by Kenyan authorities.

Kenyan diplomats can go to work in another arena too. In its campaign against the International Criminal Court cases against President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, Kenya mounted the most effective diplomatic campaign initiated by any African state in recent years.

It mustered support within the AU for its position and exerted considerable pressure on an international body despite the opposition of powerful Western interests.

Exactly the same sort of diplomatic effort is needed to influence EU migration policy. Kenya’s diplomats have the skills, capacity and experience to take the lead.

When backing the Kenyan cause, AU members fervidly embraced a diplomatic drive that gave the continent’s political leaders immunity from future prosecution.

Will they exhibit the same enthusiasm for action in order to save the lives of thousands of the most desperate, vulnerable Africans who will otherwise die in shipwrecks on the Mediterranean?