Migrant problem needs new thinking

Reducing the number of migrant deaths at the perilous Mediterranean sea requires addressing the economic roots of the problem

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The death of 30 people on a migrant boat between Sicily and the North African coast is yet another tragedy involving migrants in the Mediterranean. As The National reports today, the Italian rescuers discovered the bodies when they boarded a fishing boat carrying around 590 people.

Migreurop, a network of immigration charities, estimates some 17,000 migrants have died at sea trying to reach Europe in the past 20 years, mostly coming from African countries, often crossing on dinghies or rickety fishing boats ill-suited to such voyages.

Solutions to prevent these tragedies have long been discussed. After the last major Mediterranean disaster in October last year, when around 400 people died after a boat packed with African asylum-seekers sank off Italian shores, Cecilia Malmstroem, the EU’s home affairs commissioner, called on European countries to do more to take in refugees in order to help reduce the number of people taking the perilous Mediterranean crossing.

Italian officials, meanwhile, called for more assistance from the EU to deal with the sharp increase in refugee arrivals – 25,000 people in 2013 alone (more than three times the number for 2012). The Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, is expected to raise the issue with other leaders at an EU summit this week, urging them to invest in the bloc’s border control agency, Frontex, and help shoulder the burden.

But is the EU solely responsible for the deaths of these people?

Perhaps the more important question to ask is, what leads these people to leave their home countries and risk their lives to migrate to Europe? Most of them, if not all, are economic migrants – they wish to find jobs and start a new life away from their difficult situations back home.

The governments of these people have clearly failed them, by not providing them with the economic opportunities needed to have a decent life. What the EU can do is to invest in the economies of these countries. Without doubt, addressing the roots of the problem is the best way to prevent needless tragedies at sea.