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Migrants’ tragedy

Updated February 04, 2018

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SINCE 2015, restrictions on Europe’s eastern borders have forced global migrants to choose alternative sea routes, including the perilous central Mediterranean route through Libya ending in Lampedusa in Sicily.

Such journeys have tragically raised the death toll in the Mediterranean Sea.

Last month alone there were 218 deaths on the Libya-Italy route and 246 in the entire Mediterranean, making it the deadliest month for migrants since June 2017. On Friday, some 90 migrants drowned off the coast of Libya after a smugglers’ boat capsized, according to the UN’s migration agency.

Among the dead were at least 16 Pakistanis, including four adults and a five-year-old child from the same family; and most of the deceased were from Punjab, according to the Foreign Office. The International Organisation for Migration believes that most migrants on this craft were Pakistani.

Not implausible when Pakistanis were the 13th largest nationality among migrants crossing the Mediterranean last year and the third-largest contingent last month.

Unlike Syria, Afghanistan and Sudan, countries from where fleeing populations deserve protection, all Pakistani migrants do not necessarily escape conflict.

Working-age migrants succumb to the lure of Europe when our government remains shamefully apathetic to their lack of opportunities.

Such is their desperation that they pay thousands to smugglers, and risk drowning at sea or facing arbitrary detention in overcrowded migrant centres, just to become part of the underground European economy.

Regrettably, this rising tide of migration is impossible to quell unless the state provides disillusioned, jobless youth with options.

Death rates at sea have risen because migrants are now taking the most dangerous sea routes to get to Europe. Last year’s EU-Turkey agreement aimed at restricting refugees from crossing the Aegean Sea into Europe made little difference to slow down migrant movements.

Because Europe has a moral obligation to uphold its commitment to human rights, the EU must push for more sustainable solutions, including an overhauling of migration policies (asylum claim processes); internationalising search-and-rescue operations; and allowing humanitarian assistance.

Strangely, the paradox of Europe’s response by using ham-fisted measures to make entry tougher has only increased illegal migration.

Only when wealthy nations adhere to human rights values and implement just asylum policies can the world’s most devastated people — fleeing conflict, hate, poverty, socio-political injustices fuelled by corrupt governments and First World capitalist greed — regain their dignity.

Published in Dawn, February 4th, 2018