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Africa

Africa's media silent over Mediterranean refugee crisis

Like the proverbial ostrich who buries his head in the sand, African reporters and politicians seem blind to the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean. A look at how the continent's press is addressing the issue.

Tens of thousands of refugees risk their lives trying to get to Europe. Surprisingly this sort of news rarely makes front page in Africa. 'The migrant boat tragedy is not just Europe's problem,' a title by the 'Daily Maverick', a South African daily, silently screams.

"The African Union communications department has been very busy lately, issuing statements on subjects as varied and diverse as the Sudanese elections, the killing of Ethiopian citizens by "Islamic State" (IS) in Libya, the xenophobic violence in South Africa and the marketing of Africa's 'Agenda 2063' to Polish investors. Nothing, however, on the boatloads of Africans risking everything to escape the continent. Nothing on the hundreds of corpses floating in the Mediterranean."

The paper goes on to say "In late 2014, the AU partnered with the EU to launch the Khartoum Process, which aims to facilitate dialogue amongst countries involved in migration routes to try and find a way to address the root causes of irregular migration. A spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told the Daily Maverick that the AU has been particularly involved in awareness-raising programs in refugee camps on the continent, trying to convince refugees that there's no golden pot at the end of a rainbow that awaits them in Europe. This is a good start, but so far it's nothing more than that."

Refugee crisis is Africa's problem too

Headlines carried in widely read papers like 'The Star' from Johannesburg, 'Pretoria News' or 'New Vision' from Uganda's capital Kampala, suggests that much of the responsibility for the refugee crisis lies heavily on those outside the continent's borders. 'Worst-ever migrant shipwreck prompts calls for EU action', or 'EU told to act on migrant drownings', 'EU vows to up efforts to save migrants' and 'No more excuses, EU warns as another migrant boat in distress'.

Photos showing illegal immigrants who perish in boat tragedies.

Victims of the boat tragedies largely go unnoticed

A non-representative survey shows that the xenophobic attacks in South Africa were reported in the media about ten times more than the deaths in the Mediterranean. Both incidents are related to similar subjects like the search for happiness, work, freedom or some kind of stability.

And just like in the south, a cold reception awaits the migrants in Europe. It is made worse by indifferent smugglers that never adhere to the logic that "the boat is full". While the xenophobic attacks in South Africa have triggered outrage across Africa, the drowning of thousands in the Mediterranean is scarcely debated.

Tale of human smugglers

The Cape Town newspaper 'Cape Times' posted a lengthy article focusing on human smugglers. It quotes one cynical human trafficker from Eritrea known as 'The General'. "They say I put too many aboard, but they're the ones who want to leave in a hurry." Another Ethiopian trafficker codenamed Ghermaya prides himself on what he has accomplished so far. "This year I have done well - I sent off 7,000 to 8,000," Ghermaya told the Cape Times. His network supposedly earned 100 million euros ($108 million) in just two years.

The 'Sud Quotidien', a daily from Senegal sought to find the motives that drive young people to leave the West African country. "They (youth) used keywords such as jihad, Barcelona or death. That means the important thing for them is to leave no matter what. The open sea is thus used as a synonym for finding success. Death smells like paradise. The term jihad is used to describe the ineffable: Paying cash to take a dangerous adventure in the hope of securing happiness for the family members who stay at home. What motivates them is not tangible. The desperate migrants experience a sense of great happiness as they stand between two fires: poverty and war. The taste of danger becomes their last hope. They were born to die."

Why do we need the AU?

'The Zimbabwean', a newspaper run by Zimbabweans in exile faults the African and European Union alike. "The European Union pusillanimously refuses to save our children from the people traffickers. European countries will not agree to open their borders to all comers. The lamentable state of African governments led by icons such as Mugabe will continue to drive a flood of refugees to Europe. International aid to Africa is largely misspent.

African heads of state gather for an African Union summit.

African leaders have not been vocal about the refugee crisis

Some of these billions of dollars could be directed at creating a UN protection zone, perhaps in North Africa, where rescued migrants could receive food and medical attention, and indeed schooling, while their asylum claims for Europe could be processed."

'The Observer' from Uganda says Africa lacks a clear common strategy. "After more than a decade of the media trumpeting the ‘Africa rising' narrative, these stories constitute a reality check. And this reality makes us wonder whether Africa's leaders are capable of turning around the fortunes of the continent so that Africans cease being the laughing stock of the world. Sadly, their reaction doesn't exude confidence. The African Union is not leading as it should and individual leaders of African countries, apart from Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, are not speaking out either."

The Observer goes on to say "European Union ministers held a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday and their leaders are to follow up with an extraordinary summit in Brussels on Thursday to discuss the Mediterranean immigrant crisis, but you will not hear of their African counterparts doing anything about this. Where and when is Africa's own summit on this crisis? Where is the African Union's master plan on migration? Where's the collective commitment of African leaders to end the suffering of their peoples? ".

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe.

Current AU chairperson Zimbabwe's President Mugabe is a strong critic of western powers

A similar reaction comes from 'La Nouvelle Tribune' of Benin. "The so-called African Union should support the unity of Africans and their aspiration for a better future. But it (AU) remains silent and is completely absent on important issues. Like many other African organizations, the AU is full of bureaucrats. Hundreds of Africans are dying in the sea after fleeing conflict and poverty caused by their own governments.

If Europe is searching for a solution who can blame the EU for looking after its own interests? It's only trying to stop a migrant invasion. One obvious fact in this debate is the conspicuous absence of the AU. Many Africans are now asking themselves, 'why do we need the AU?' If you have an answer, please send it to us."

The heated discussions on social networks even here at Deutsche Welle reveal how much this question keeps affecting people. What is Africa really doing to solve the refugee crisis?

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