This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Commodification of Migrants From Africa to Europe

Migration has been a risky business for most of human existence (thoughts of the Donner Party come to mind), but of course life itself was a risky business for most of human existence. Legal migration is pretty straightforward in the modern world, but undocumented migration is increasingly tragic because it has been taken over by human traffickers whose goal is not to get people safely from point A to point B--but rather to make money from the migrants and/or their families and from the governments that are trying to deal with them on the receiving end. A detailed story by Alex Perry and Connie Agius in Newsweek reveals the inner workings of human trafficking from Africa to Europe, and it just hurts to read this stuff. As background they remind us that:
Since the year 2000 around 22,000 Middle Easterners, Asians and Africans have drowned in the Mediterranean. Many perished in the seas between Africa and Lampedusa, the small, southern Sicilian island which, at just 300km from Tripoli, is the closest part of Europe to Libya. In the past 18 months, the numbers of those trying to reach Europe – and dying in the attempt – have accelerated sharply. In 2014, more than 250,000 migrants tried to cross the Mediterranean, of whom 3,702 died. In 2015, the European Union predicts crossings could reach 500,000 or even a million – a spike the International Organisation of Migration predicts could mean around 10,000 deaths.
The migrant traffic is rising for various reasons: the disintegration of Libya and Yemen; repression in Eritrea; civil war in Sudan and South Sudan; and the apparent conclusion reached by millions of Syrians, spending a fourth year in foreign refugee camps, that they are never going home. Europe is not blameless in these disasters. Nato assisted in Libya's collapse in 2011; the EU supported a corrupt and ethnically-divisive government in South Sudan; and both Nato and the EU have done little to arrest Syria's destruction. Further back in history, as Africans arriving in Europe are wont to remind those who object to "economic" migrants, the wealth that now attracts them was built, in large part, by the Europeans who migrated to Africa in pursuit of its riches in the 19th century.
They then dive into the fact that the rising number of deaths of people headed especially from Libya to Italy has caused the Italian anti-mafia team of prosecutors to step in. They asked survivors of these boats to give them cell phone numbers of people with whom they had been in contact, and by tapping phone lines were able to piece together a huge, complicated, and sophisticated web of human trafficking that is making a lot of money for a lot of people. At the center of the one of these operations is a 40-something Ethiopian described as being very "street smart."
To ensure a steady supply of migrants, he works with those in Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria or Eritrea who run trucks across the Sahara. Simultaneously, he continually establishes fresh relationships with people traffickers further down the line: those in Sicily, operating in migrant centres, or in Rome, Milan or even further afield in Berlin, Paris, Stockholm or London.
And the story goes on to detail corruption existing at the migrant camps set up in Italy. Given the political and social disorganization that wracks so much of Africa and the Middle East, it is hard to know how to approach a solution. Cracking down on each corrupt person is like the proverbial whack-a-mole game. You have to do that, but at root the population growth in this region is exacerbating every other problem that exists. Lowering birth rates has to be part of the long-term solution. 

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