international analysis and commentary

The migrant tragedy and the need for a comprehensive solution: an Algerian view

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The latest mass drowning of migrants – mostly from Sub-Saharan countries – in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea raises many complex issues in a harsh context, including persistent and extensive financial constraints in the EU, and widespread (in some cases chronic) instability in the MENA region. This ongoing tragedy, which inevitably shakes our conscience, challenges the entire international community to adopt a comprehensive and balanced strategy for the management of the long-term and massive phenomenon of south-north migration. Of course, this must be done in full respect of human rights preserving the dignity of migrants.

The Algerian government, like many others, has expressed deep sentiments following the latest episodes. A foreign ministry spokesperson stressed that Algeria “has repeatedly called for the promotion of international cooperation on the issue of migration (…) and the fight against mafia and transnational criminal networks that have made human trafficking a thriving business.” He also underlined that “the integration of economic and social development in any policy and any regional or international strategy related to the issue of migration is essential.”

Migrants are fleeing terror and famine but do not know exactly where to go or what to expect once they reach the southern shores of Europe. Meanwhile, European countries are expressing their consternation for the incidents, rather than face their own inability to respond effectively to this humanitarian crisis.

However, the political and security context of the southern shores of the Mediterranean is equally important. No one imagined that the Arab Spring would lead to such protracted chaos in so many countries, and therefore nobody knows exactly what to do to stop, or at least contain, this precipitant human flow. Recent terrorist attacks – on both sides of the sea – also combine with the migratory flows to provoke even more xenophobic reactions.

Yet, the key questions are clear: how will we restore the path to economic and social development in the southern region? And how will we boost Europe’s growth?

The numbers – of victims and aspirant migrants – are staggering and clearly show that this is not getting any better over time. Faced with a worsening situation, European leaders should end years of procrastination. It is a moral duty for the EU to change tack, as stated by the head of European diplomacy, Federica Mogherini. She spoke of the need for a greater presence in the European sea and a shared responsibility for the reception of migrants and refugees. Europeans are going to put more resources into the effort, including more boats to save lives, but – assuming this is confirmed – will it be enough? Surely not. Even if Europe could reach deals with local forces in Libya, this would be a temporary, partial and sub-regional stopgap, at best.

The UN’s involvement is also necessary, as control and interdiction measures can only marginally affect the inflow. More broadly, the best hope is a global solution that takes into consideration the fundamental requirements of long-term development and democracy. If this sounds like an old and well-known statement, so be it – it is still the most sensible path.