In today’s Corriere della Sera I read Fiorenza Sarzanini’s article on the boat militiamen: “Many [potential migrants] are approached by traffickers, who would do anything to find human ‘merchandise’ they can ship, and they convince the migrants to follow them.” And, again, a few lines below: “Thousands of other foreigners await to embark on the same trip. Human merchandise unaware of the real danger of being destined to die, or perhaps they are willing to do anything to change their lives.”
These sentences coherently follow a perspective that has become so embedded in the European public opinion that we can no longer understand its origins or the political position it supports. This is a perspective that dominates the overwhelming majority of today’s newspapers and commentaries after the Lampedusa tragedy. This point of view can be summarized as follows: “Human trafficking in the Mediterranean is a crime against humanity that must be stopped with every means, and Europe cannot abandon us.” These words could be uttered by any political or moral official, belonging to any political party or group.
Well, in my opinion, this statement is misleading and incorrect, because it leads to political strategies and military operations that are incapable of tackling the phenomenon of immigration in a way that really focuses on the migrants’ dignity and their lives.
For at least fifteen years, European countries – taken singularly and as a collectivity – have developed “steps to hinder illegal immigration and the criminal organizations behind it.” These policies have been approved by all political parties; yet, for the past fifteen years, the number of victims has increased steadily. How come?
For me the explanation is simple and almost banal.
The problem lies in the fact that there are people in the world who need to travel – either to survive or to look for a better life – but do not have the right to travel because other people, whose lives tend to be less at risk, have decided to deny them this right. These people do not wait at home to respect the orders of those who are better off. Instead, they try to reach the land of those who would like to deny them the right to travel. And, while traveling, these people find natural and, above all, military obstacles (see the policies to stop immigration I mentioned above); hence, they accept the help of traffickers who give them a rickety and dangerous means to overcome those obstacles and who play on the migrants’ desperation and the border patrol’s corruptibility to charge them high sums of money.
Europeans who want to cross a sea, a desert, the steppes, or the mountains would pay 5-10-20 times less than a non-European migrant: for us [Europeans] it is legal, hence safe; for them, it’s illegal, hence unsafe.
If we really want to save those people who need to travel, the first thing we should do is guarantee them the right to do so in a safe and humane way.
Since we don’t want to do this, instead we pretend to take care of them by attacking the traffickers and their inhumanity
The traffickers of human beings exist, but these are people who forcefully recruit other human beings to sell them against their will. Those people who make money out of migrants to allow them to cross the frontiers are, as the Italian democracy would say, ‘final users’ of the frontiers and walls that protect fortress Europe.
The expression ‘human merchandise’ used by Sarzanini is correct only if we take the European perspective for granted, a perspective embraced by those who insist on strengthening the Fortress and pretend that this strategy does not result in tragedies and victims. Migrants are indeed ‘human merchandise’, but this merchandise is the result of our politics and policies and is later used by those who take advantage of this situation to make profits.
From a different viewpoint, instead, migrants are people who have been denied a fundamental right, not because of something they did wrong, but only on the basis of ethnic discrimination – on the basis, that is, of their birthplace.
Yesterday Italian President Napolitano demanded that Frontex be strengthened and all politicians embraced his position. Frontex is the European agency that should coordinate the actions of the member states in monitoring international borders and should manage sea, land, and air operations to stop illegal immigrants from entering the EU.
Well, dear President, if we reinforce Frontex and its strategy, we will have two immediate results: the increase in the number of victims among those who ask for protection and the increase of the cost of these illegal trips and the traffickers’ profits.
But then we could present wonderful reports that boast our success in limiting the number of migrants who could land illegally in Europe. But have we ever asked ourselves something really simple? When we decrease the number of illegal migrants who enter the EU, where do the people we blocked and pushed back end up? Do we really believe they will go back to their country because they found out it’s illegal? No, they will start their trip again, if they manage to survive torture and jail time in non-European countries (Lybia, Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Ukraine, Belarus, and others) to which our police entrusted them, all the while paying these countries a high sum of money.
Yes, now what? What can we do?
We need to transfer the funds we use to stop illegal immigration to the creation of legal migration avenues.
We need to create infrastructures and agencies that can provide information on how and where you can migrate or on how and where you can flee.
In this way, they will all come here, right?
No, this is not true.
The vast majority of people who need to run away from regimes and wars look for refuge in nearby countries, hoping to go back home once the wars cease and the regimes fall.
Other people, 20-30-year olds, try to move further away from home to be able to send money back to their families that are awaiting near their home country. And it is these people whom we must help.
If the people who migrate for economic reasons realize that they can earn a certain amount of money legally, they will certainly send back that amount and work to profit from their emigration through their own remittances.
For all this to happen, though, we need to build information systems and work on organizing legal migration channels: we need to open ad hoc offices, use cultural-linguistic mediators, fund UN agencies that work on this, use diplomatic headquarters for these goals, etcetera. And where can we find the money to do all this? Well, we could save money decreasing the insanity and dismantling the inefficient security system, which relies on push-back operations, forced repatriation, expulsion, detention and such.
This is a complex and revolutionary direction, but it’s the only one that allows us not to be hypocritical when we are shocked by these tragedies and we proclaim our desire to respect the migrants’ lives and dignity.
Otherwise, the only thing we’ll be left with is shame.
The choice is up to us.
[Translated by Michela Ardizzoni; email@example.com]