For some time now, illegal immigration has been a major political topic here in the United States, and it’s going to be an important topic on Capitol Hill in the near future as Democrats and Republicans air their substantial differences about the best way to manage the problem.
But the issue isn’t confined to the United States. Americans should be appalled at the tragic fate of so many North Africans who are desperately seeking a better life in Europe.
The most recent human tragedy unfolded in Niger not long ago when the bodies of 87 migrants — seven men, 32 women and 48 children — who had died of thirst were found in the desert near the Algerian border. Earlier, it was reported that at least 30 migrants had died of dehydration in the Sahara desert after their vehicle had mechanical problems and left them stranded.
The Niger victims had been trying to reach Algeria, and it is believed they had been hoping eventually to make it to Europe, like so many others who had preceded them.
The tragedy became known only when the 21 beleaguered survivors finally made their way back to their hometown in northern Niger. Their dreams of a new life in Europe had become a horrible nightmare.
On Oct. 3, an estimated 365 migrants drowned when their boat sank as it neared Lampedusa, a small Italian island in the Mediterranean that is often the first stop for those fleeing Africa. That dreadful incident drew attention to the entire issue of human trafficking in the region.
Those who offer to illegally shepherd the migrants from Africa to Europe are often ill-equipped to carry out their mission safely, but they don’t hesitate to accept the migrants’ money. Each year, the United Nations reports, tens of thousands of West Africans try to make their way to Europe, and they pay as much as $3,000 each to be given what too often is unsafe transportation across North Africa and then on to Europe. So it is not surprising that illegal immigration is a huge issue in Europe, just as it is in the United States, and that it generates conflict among the continent’s political conservatives, moderates and liberals, with the conservatives usually favoring adopting stringent measures to discourage the flood of non-Europeans who don’t share the cultural values that are dominant in their new homes.
Of those migrants who have made it to Italy, 73 percent have met the existing criteria for asylum. Others, though, quickly manage to disperse throughout Europe, which since forming the European Union no longer has effective boundaries between member nations. Many of those who have made it to Lampedusa soon were headed to migrant communities in Northern Europe.
Most of us believe in what we might call the good life, including political freedoms, and why shouldn’t we? But so do many of the less fortunate people who find themselves economically or politically deprived in their native countries. It’s understandable that they’d take huge risks to reach a better place.
Europe’s record-high unemployment presents a significant obstacle to those who feel morally compelled to encourage their governments to place a priority on saving the lives of the migrants. Others strongly believe that their elected leaders must give higher priority to domestic issues. Sound familiar?
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