Over 1,500 immigrants have died this year attempting to cross the Mediterranean and reach Europe. Every day, hundreds of people set out to escape by sea from the violence and poverty of their countries, only to find death. This week, nearly 700 shipwreck victims are being searched for in European waters.
The clamors and feeling of these migrants are all too familiar for the Latin American community here in the U.S. The people who risk their lives on improvised boats to sail from from Libya to Italy– a door to the European Union, – resemble those crossing Mexico to get to the U.S. border.
Contrasting economies, unequal opportunity and lack of security create a global migration phenomenon that puts developed nations in a tight spot. The ongoing conflicts in Africa and the Middle East fuel the migration to Europe, and the instability caused by Muslim extremists is a central motive for this exodus. As brutal wars mushroom, a developing infrastructure is destroyed and deep hatreds are sown.
Africa, for its part, has serious economic development problems. Natural resources disappear under chronic corruption. All the while, unlike in Latin America, a severe lack of a qualified labor force hinders investment.
Europe does not seem to know how to deal with this situation. A shared responsibility to avoid tragedies at sea in the form of rescue missions appears to exist there, but that is as far as their response will go.
The result is a resurgence of anti-immigrant parties in the richer European countries – Great Britain, France and Germany, – whose economies are unable to fully recover. Racism also plays a role, as African and Arab migrants are seen as a threat to the host country’s way of life and to European culture.
History is a tale of migrations: demographic changes brought about by war and poverty. Today, developed nations are faced with the challenge of responding to this reality. The best answer would be to stimulate the economic progress and political stability of the nations from where the migrants are coming. Until this is possible, Europe will have to look beyond its present and find a positive response to this humanitarian crisis.