They cram into rubber boats and ill-equipped dinghies and set sail across the Mediterranean, hoping that their journey to the European border will open up a new life for them.
Last week, the Italian navy rescued more than 1,100 asylum seekers off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa. Another boat with 300 people capsized, killing everybody onboard. The illegal immigrants were from sub-Saharan Africa. Lately, the influx of migrants braving dangerous conditions, has been on the rise.
A Refugee Problem
Every year thousands of people risk their lives to flee from conflict and instability in Africa and the Middle East. Some make their way in small rafts with no identity proof and little belongings across the Mediterranean Sea to European countries.
Migrants crossing the central Mediterranean begin their boat ride from Libya and Tunisia, but come mostly from far-away Eritrea and Somalia. Recently, many Syrians have been fleeing the country's civil war. Their target is Lampedusa, the largest island of the Italian Pelagie Islands in the Mediterranean Sea. It is a tantalizing gateway to Europe.
Since the Arab spring in 2011, thousands of Tunisians crossed over to Italy after the fall of their government. Migrant workers from Libya also followed them. In 2011 alone, over 64,000 boat people landed in Italy. It is a treacherous journey and many who attempt it, never make it. According to some estimates, more than 20,000 are believed to have died at sea trying to reach Europe in the last two decades.
Civil war takes a toll on people. Most of the Central African nations have been in the midst of some internal conflict or the other. Wars mean death, families torn apart, lost childhood, and poverty and economic hardship for its people. Fearing for their lives, many are driven to flee their own countries and escape being caught in the cross fire. Some migrate in search of better economic opportunities in a new land.
Europe's Refugee policy
Unfortunately, the European Union (EU) does not have a clear policy on dealing with the people coming in droves to their lands. It is difficult to send the boats back to where they came from, safely. Passengers must be brought ashore and properly processed. The human refugee flow into Europe, tends to ebb and flow according to seasons, distant conflicts and political alignments.
Critical Thinking: From a humanitarian perspective, granting asylum and making the sea crossing safer is important. But for the EU the fear is that this could lure more people to pour into the EU. What should the EU do?