How can we prevent refugees drowning in the Mediterranean? Charles M. Huber of the German conservative parties' parliamentary working group on Africa says what's needed is curbing traffickers and illegal employment.
DW: Mr Huber, do we need better opportunities for legal migration in order to stop the wave of refugees trying to get to Europe from Africa?
Charles M. Huber: The question is not whether we need legal forms of migration, but how we put a stop to the illegal practices of human traffickers. This is not about altruistic actions by people saying, "OK, we have to help the poor." No – rather: "We have to relieve them of their savings first." We're talking about a fee of between 3,000 and 5,000 euros. For someone in Africa on an average income, 3,000 euros is the equivalent of between 1,000 and 3,000 days' work. Anyone who's able to pay 3,000 to 5,000 euros for a crossing is not one of those who will have nothing to eat the next day. That's one side of the problem.
The other side is that human trafficking is also helping to fund terrorist networks. And what we're dealing with here is not amateurs but intelligent people who are very aware of the effect created by the images we're currently seeing on television, which are very emotive and also very tragic. Right now, the most important thing is for us to save lives; there's no question about that. In this acute situation we must take care of the refugees. It's the right thing to do. But this is emergency assistance on humanitarian grounds, not a long-term solution. The opposite, in fact. The more people we take in, the more they're going to send us – and the more money the traffickers and the criminal gangs will make.
How can we put a stop to the traffickers' activities?
It's like this: We're only picking up the people who are dying just off our shores. But there are also people dying shortly after they set off.
One way of solving the problem is certainly, or could be, the reinforcement of patrols near the coastline, which is to say, just outside the three-mile zone of the North African countries' territorial waters.
The point of the rescue operations is to save as many refugee boat people as possible. But what happens to those who get to Europe?
I assume that some of them aren't able to raise the money for the crossing. These people often end up in the trafficking networks. That's another topic that hasn't been discussed much to date. What we're dealing with here is a joint venture between terrorist networks and organized crime. Some of the refugees are integrated into these networks: the women in prostitution, the men in selling drugs. Saying that may sound like the criminalization of people who have come here to escape suffering. But this is the reality. It's certainly not true of all of them, but for a shockingly high number it is. We must not support these business practices.
It's not just Europe that bears responsibility for the current refugee crisis, but also the African countries these people are coming from. What needs to happen in the African countries for people there to have some kind of perspective?
First and foremost, they have to rethink their approach. Africa itself must also become pro-active. African capital must be invested in Africa, not transferred abroad. Possibilities must be created for private enterprise in Europe to have a potential partner not only in the political sector in these countries, but also in private enterprise there. They need to demonstrate a high level of self-responsibility and self-discipline. Because every politician there knows that there's a security deficit. Everyone knows that that there are terrorist groups, and that they're very attractive to young, unemployed people.
I think Africa needs a master plan for its economic and social development in order to meet the challenges of demographic development. People are already saying that the population in African countries is going to double by 2050. Besides, in order to stop the spread of terrorism in Africa, we have to work with African governments on a concept for how we're going to develop the economy there with a view to sustainability. It's a question of developing a value-added chain that enables people to become economically active.
The majority of Mediterranean refugees reach European soil in Italy. Italy, though, doesn't feel it can cope, and it can't deal with the problem on its own. How can we help Italy?
We can't help Italy by feeling sorry for Italy. That certainly won't help. Italy is just a point of arrival. Illegal employment must be curbed, in Italy and in the EU. When migrants arrive in Europe, they have the opportunity to buy cheap phone cards. Everyone immediately buys a mobile phone, calls their home country and says, "I've made it." Perhaps also, "I've got work." This is usually illegal work, as a seasonal worker on a farm, or as a domestic cleaner. If this opportunity didn't exist, nobody would say, "I'm determined to go to Europe," because then he'd use his 3,000 or 5,000 euros to buy a taxi, or something else, and start a business.
How can Germany be of help in creating a "master plan" for Africa?
The important thing is just for some kind of start to be made: for people in the poor countries to see that there's movement in terms of economic development. We have to promote dual education in these countries. We have to encourage private businesses in Germany and Europe to become active in these countries. We have to say to the politicians with responsibility in these countries that they must establish security for investors, in order for economic stimulus to be created at the level of small and medium-sized business. So the African side needs to establish the basic conditions that will encourage people to invest. And then the continent will have a chance.
Charles M. Huber, 58, has been a member of the German parliament since 2013. He is a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the speaker of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group for Africa. He is the son of a Senegalese diplomat and a German mother from Bavaria.
The interview was conducted by Iveta Ondruskova.