This week we were greeted by yet more grim news of lives lost attempting to cross from North Africa to Europe. As if this were not tragic enough, what has followed has been a degree of indifference that underscores just how blasé the world has become to such migrant deaths. What was news a few days ago has soon been edged out by the comings and goings of those who are past masters at faux sympathy or the wringing of hands. Individual tragedies and national loss has been transmuted into mere statistics. To date governments have not even bothered to state that this must not happen again, instead the epitaph of those claimed by the Mediterranean would appear to be: ‘In life our lives counted for little, in death they amount to even less.
The Horn of Africa is of course no strategy to tragedy and some would claim that in this time of prolonged drought there is insufficient water even for tears. Others will argue vociferously that fatalism has inured local people to such deaths. The majority of those that drowned during an attempted crossing to Italy were Somalis, with Eritreans and Ethiopians also amongst the dead. The task of identifying the bodies is in some cases impossible, they are known only to God. In truth we may never know the names and circumstances that drove these individuals to risk life and limb to reach Europe, yet their story is familiar enough for us to surmise some of the reasoning. Primarily this is a sorry tale of young lives devoid of hope and prospects. The scourge of unemployment and under-employment gnaws away at a nation, and the resulting poverty causes desperate people to do desperate things. Whilst a tiny minority might be enticed away by Al Shabaab, others heard tales of friends and relatives who have made it to Europe, a destination whose very name beguiles dispossessed and disenfranchised youth. For Europe is that demi-Eden where Manchester United and Real Madrid are to be found, a place of promise, prospects and prosperity. What dazzles from afar, lacks lustre on closer inspection, but to those with empty pockets and no connections this is of little consequence. The pull factor is immense.
The other side of the equation is the push factor. Youths hailing from places as diverse as Eastleigh, Kismaayo, Galkayo, Hargeisa and Asmara are alienated and forgotten. Some such as those in Eritrea are fearful of conscription and of becoming chattels of the state, while others, especially young Somalis, have little hope of building a lives for themselves. They are aware of a world beyond that to all intents and purposes is passing them by. For these young people, the vast majority young men and boys, there is no social contract, society and even their clans have failed them. They see an elite who continue to prosper no matter what, whilst they are left to rot. Is it any wonder they are willing to play a form of Russian Roulette by trusting people traffickers who care little whether they live or die. Yes, a tiny percentage do make it, but the vast majority endure terrible privations and worse. Their suffering is a direct consequence of failed states and the myopic and addled thinking of old men who prefer to stoke ancient enmities rather than tackle day to day issues.
The inertia that pervades the corridors of responsibility has directly contributed to these deaths and the continued suffering of individuals trapped or enslaved in Libya or the Sinai Desert. Politicians and clan elders mouth a few words of regret and then resume their daily rounds until the next time. Nations that should care for the safety and well-being of every citizen have become khat-addled and seemingly incapable of any coherent approach to the problem. The international community including policy makers and NGO-wallahs must also shoulder some of the blame for their sclerotic approach to the migrant crisis and to contributory issues such as regional instability and the deteriorating water security situation. In point of fact most of us have been supine to some degree and almost all of us could have done and be doing a lot more. We can debate the extent of our own culpability, but this will not bring back those lost at sea or consumed by the Sahara or the Sinai Desert.
We can certainly ponder what might have been. For who knows what those young people would have gone on to achieve had they been given half a chance. What is for certain is that all that promise has not been given the opportunity to be fulfilled. The Horn of Africa has lost possible teachers, doctors, inventors, poets, engineers, mentors and parents. Each year potential heroes and heroines are being lost to a pernicious trade in human suffering and still we do not stop and ask: How many more lives? I doubt a single government will be flying back any of the bodies and giving them a state funeral and yet indirectly states have played a part in driving them to their deaths.
We would do well to appreciate that for many Somalis who die in their quest there is no Sheikh on hand to recite Surah Yaseen over them, no one will wash their body and anoint it with adar. The karfan will be absent and the Janaaso
will remain unsaid. All people would wish for dignity in death, but maybe these lives lost can teach us all one very important lesson, and that is that the value of dignity in life. I am acutely aware that I need to do more and trust that others will act upon this cri de coeur.
Mark T. Jones
International Speaker & Leadership Specialist
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