Newsletter of ISA (International sociological association) – Research Committee on sociology of migration, Autumn 2013.
October 2013 will be remembered as an exceptionally bad month for migration: about 400 people died in the Mediterranean Sea not far from the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, trying to reach the European continent. Immigration scholars are not surprised that such disasters continue to occur. Over the past 20 years, thousands of people lost their lives trying to cross the European or the North American borders. Many more have been luckier and have made it after one or several attempts. Everyday, thousands of people try to escape wars, political conflicts, environmental disasters, or economic strain to start a new life in regions where safety, freedom and economic opportunities still seem to be present. They do so by using all means available and very often paying for a service that is far from guaranteed.
Human disasters such as those of Lampedusa should shock any human being wherever she or he lives, and not only the inhabitants of the small island who are the first witnesses and the first aid providers to would-be migrants coming from various countries. However, many of us unfortunately get used to regular television images of rescued migrants or, far worse, corpses aligned in rudimentary wooden coffins on European soil in Lampedusa or elsewhere. A minority don’t care or are even happy. This is the case for example of the leaders of the Northern League in Italy who advised in the past to use cannons against irregular migrants at sea or at least to put an end to rescue operations in the Mediterranean. Others think this is an Italian problem that should be solved by Italy itself. The majority of us probably are sad and don’t feel too comfortable but consider that events like those of Lampedusa are accidents, with fatalities that can neither be predicted nor avoided.
Scholars of migration in my view have the responsibility to shout out what they know about the causes of migration and migration policies, and convey the results of our research on these matters to the public at large. Events like those of Lampedusa are not unforeseeable accidents or fatalities. On the contrary, they are predictable and logical. On the one hand, economic unbalance, political conflicts and environmental problems produce or reinforce emigration pressures in many countries. On the other hand, the avenues for legal migration to Europe or the US are severely restricted. This conjunction of causes explains the development of a profitable migration industry aimed at making money by smuggling in (or by promising to smuggle in) would-be migrants from the south of the world to the North. This is a global reality, not an Italian problem. When are we going to admit that not only do we have the moral duty to help our fellow humans who risk their life to cross borders at sea or in the desert, but also we have the moral duty to look further by working on the root causes of such events? One thing is clear, unless we totally rethink migration policies at the global level, unless we really provide workable solution to global economic unbalance, political conflicts and environment problems, human beings will continue to risk their lives to give a future to their children – and events like those of Lampedusa will continue to occur. If things don’t change radically in the way we approach migration, there will only be Lampedusa after Lampedusa.