The 16-year-old Gambian who was discovered by a Spanish naval ship as he clung to a fuel tank in open seas will doubtless be haunted by his experience for the rest of his days. But he was also exceptionally fortunate—the only survivor, by his account, among more than 140 people who left the Libyan port of Sabratha on a large rubber dinghy on March 26th or 27th. It began taking on water a few hours later, he told UN officials from his hospital bed on the Italian island of Lampedusa.
“Details of sinkings in the central Mediterranean are often sketchy and sometimes unconfirmed. The Libyan Red Crescent said no bodies had been found from the disaster the young Gambian reported. But it is clear from figures kept by international organisations that both the risks of setting out from Libya and the numbers reaching Europe are growing.
According to the International Organisation for Migration, 24,513 people had landed in Italy this year by April 2nd. That was an increase of about 30% compared with the first three months of last year. Yet UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, calculates that the death rate per 100 arrivals climbed from 1.8 in 2015 to 3.4 in the first three months of 2017. One in 30 migrants in the central Mediterranean now dies en route.”
“As the numbers make clear, the risk of death is not enough to stop them”. All the repression arsenal deployed by most global north states is in part an enormous waste, of human life and of tax-payers dollars. Governing such migration would be a lot more productive than resisting it. States could take over the mobility market from the hands of the smugglers, provide migrants with many more diversified visa options, concentrate their repression on the minute number of criminals and funnel their investments into access to labour market, support for entrepreneurship, language courses, integration strategies and anti-discrimination policies. All this would be directed towards wealth creation and social cohesion, while present policies are divisive, costly and inefficient.
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