By Nathan Dabrowski
The Italian island of Lampedusa, located between Sicily and Tunisia in the Mediterranean Sea, is an idyllic location in almost every way, where temperatures rarely move above 30° or under 18°. According to TripAdvisor, it's the location of this year's 'Best Beach in the World'.
This month, the island was also witness to two of the worst migration-related disasters the European continent has seen in a long time. On October 3rd, and then again on October 11th, boats bringing migrants from Africa to Italy capsized, resulting in a death toll of at least 400 people.
Migrant deaths throughout the Mediterranean region are more common than anyone admits. The Italian journalist Gabriele del Grande blogs extensively on migration and keeps a list of the many lives lost in between Africa and Europe, entitled La Strage – 'The Massacre' in English. The numbers are shocking, as is the fact that only a handful of the deaths make the evening news.
Tragedies like the recent Lampedusa incidents demonstrate the failure of Fortress Europe, the idea that migration in Europe can be handled by simply increasing the EU's border security and patrolling entry points like Lampedusa, which lies only 70 kilometres from the African continent. Such an approach puts far too much stress on the outer limits of the European Union, while leaving the underlying causes of international migration untouched. "Lampedusa cannot manage, Europe must realise this," the island's mayor, Giusi Nicolini, stated in an interview with RAI state television.
Reacting to this month's events, the EU's commissioner for internal affairs, Cecilia Malmström called for an EU-financed rescue mission stretching from "Spain to Cyprus". While this sort of initiative could be successful in saving many lives, it fails to tackle the factors pushing migrants towards Europe. In order to move away from a context where migrant deaths are commonplace in the Mediterranean, Europe needs to participate in the economic development of its neighbours both in the EU and across the sea.
Next week, on the 23rd of October, government and business leaders from Spain, France, Morrocco, Tunisia and six other countries will convene in Barcelona for the Economic Forum of the Western Mediterranean (Dialogue 5+5), organised by the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM).
The UfM is a budding institution bringing together 43 countries in the region, 28 EU member states and 15 Southern and Eastern Mediterranean countries, and represents the perfect opportunity for both 'sending' and 'receiving' countries to address the lack of opportunities pushing migrants from their homes and into dangerous waters. Hosted by Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy, the October conference will focus on creating and sustaining economic growth in the western Mediterranean region.
While conflicts and unrest in countries like Syria and Libya increase emigration, a powerful and often-overlooked catalyst of international migration is disparities of income and oppourtunity between world regions.
The gross national income in the greater Middle East was last measured at $3,459 (£2,149) per capita, while the EU's stands at $33,598 (£20,880) according to World Bank figures. Comparable figures for Sub-Saharan Africa are more than twice as low as those of the greater Middle East. For residents of the latter world regions, there thus exists a strong economic impetus to migrate to an exponentially richer Europe right on their doorstep.
The UfM has already undertaken development projects that, if capitalised upon, can go a long way towards lessening the gap between the two shores of the Mediterranean. The 'Med 4 Jobs' programme, for example, aims at boosting private sector development and, consequently, job creation in north Africa and the Levant. Hopefully, similar initiatives will emerge out of next week's Barcelona meetings.
As the saying goes, the best defence is a good offence. In the case of EU migration policy, the best way to prevent Europe's legal pathways from being overwhelmed is to go on the offensive and tackle the migration's underlying causes in cooperation with sending and transit countries across the Mediterranean.
Nathan Dabrowski is an eastern European correspondent based in Krakow
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