The Spectre of a Black Europe

While millions in the world are celebrating the popular uprisings in North Africa, Europe is watching with skepticism and fear. The fall of the African dictators will deprive Europe of valuable allies in the fight against irregular migration. The political vacuum and the social and economic instability that follows will create a new wave of desperate migrants daring the high seas to reach the coats of Europe. This will deepen the immigration crisis Europe has been trying hard to manage in recent years. Europe is responding with an increased use of force. A new humanitarian crisis is looming.

Devastated by war and poverty, thousands of Sub-Saharan Africans have been leaving home on a torturous and long journey north every year. Arriving in Morocco, Tunisia, or Libya, they recuperate from the journey fatigue, pay human smugglers, and climb aboard flimsy boats heading to Italy or Spain. Many fall victim to high waves and deadly storms. The survivors join the army of asylum seekers, or undocumented workers in big cities across the continent.

Removing and returning the migrants to their places of origin or the last country they left before entering Europe has proven impractical. As a result, preventing the Africans from reaching Europe has become a policy priority in recent years. To block their arrival, European states have been signing bilateral agreements with North African dictators, recruiting them to guard the EU borders in return for financial assistance.

In a bilateral agreement with Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali, Italy pledged financial support in exchange for help in preventing African transit immigrants and Tunisians from leaving for Europe. Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali’s fall ended the agreement. Border control collapsed in Tunisia and 5000 Tunisians arrived in the Italian port of Lampedusa. Although in much smaller numbers, Egyptians have been leaving their homes and heading to Italy. Egypt remains politically and economically unstable. The continuation of the situation will only increase the number of Egyptians opting for survival in Europe.

In a 2003 agreement between Spain and Morocco, Moroccan authorities pledged full cooperation in migration control in return for $390 million in aid. Two years later in September 2005, Moroccan soldiers and Spanish guards fired at hundreds of Africans trying to enter the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. Gun shots killed 11 migrants and injured many more. The North African protest movement has already reached the streets of Morocco. Here too, the future of the bilateral pact to stop African migration is at jeopardy.

The most notable of the bilateral agreements with North African dictators was the “Friendship Pact” signed between Italy and Libya on August 30th, 2008. The two countries pledged increase cooperation in “fighting terrorism, organized crime, drug trafficking, and illegal immigration.” Muammar Gaddafi agreed to keep African migrants from leaving its frontiers for Italy, and readmit to Libya those intercepted in international waters. The price tag for this service was $5 billion Italian investment, and six patrol boats to police the waterways between Africa and Europe.

On May 6, 2009, the Italian coastguard and naval fleet interdicted a migrant boat in high seas and forcefully returned the passengers to Libya. Italy’s interior minister Roberto Maroni hailed the act an “historic day” in the fight against illegal immigration. Among the passengers were vulnerable women and children, those in need of medical assistance, and those with legitimate cause for asylum and international protection. The Human Rights Watch has reported widespread abuse, physical violence, torture of returned migrants in Libya. In some cases, the Libyan authorities sold the Africans to human smugglers who kept them in private jails and released them after receiving money from their families.

The political turmoil in North Africa is also threatening the future of the “Friendship Pact.” Mummar Qaddafi has threatened his unilateral cancellation of the agreement if the European governments did not stop criticizing his violent suppression of the Libyan protesters. Qaddafi’s armed forces killed hundreds of protesters in recent days. Meanwhile, the anti-government protests are raging in different parts of Libya. The future of the Libyan dictator remains unclear.

On February 15th, the Italian Ministry of Interior sent a formal request for help to Frontex, the European Union’s border security agency. On February 20th, Frontex launched the Joint Operation Hermes 2011 with the deployment of additional aerial and maritime assets from Italy and Malta to combat the flow of illegal immigrants from North Africa.

Muammar Gaddafi may succeed in crushing the uprising by the use of extreme force. The dictator’s fall will be, however, an irrevocable blow to Europe’s current migration policy. The loss of Europe’s hired gun in the fight against irregular migration will lead to a more open confrontation between the EU armed guards and the African migrants in high seas. How far will Europe go to stop the African from reaching its frontiers?

Behzad Yaghmaian is a professor of political economy at Ramapo College of New Jersey, and the author of Embracing the Infidel: Stories of Muslim Migrants on the Journey West and the forthcoming The Greatest Migration: a People’s Story of China’s March to Power. He can be reached at behzad.yaghmaian@gmail.com.


More articles by:
Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes
John W. Whitehead
Say No to “Hardening” the Schools with Zero Tolerance Policies and Gun-Toting Cops
Edward Hunt
UN: US Attack On Syrian Civilians Violated International Law
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Outside History
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Long Hard Road
Victor Grossman
Germany: New Faces, Old Policies
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
The Iraq Death Toll 15 Years After the US Invasion
Binoy Kampmark
Amazon’s Initiative: Digital Assistants, Home Surveillance and Data
Chuck Collins
Business Leaders Agree: Inequality Hurts The Bottom Line
Jill Richardson
What We Talk About When We Talk About “Free Trade”
Eric Lerner – Jay Arena
A Spark to a Wider Fire: Movement Against Immigrant Detention in New Jersey
Negin Owliaei
Teachers Deserve a Raise: Here’s How to Fund It
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
What to Do at the End of the World? Interview with Climate Crisis Activist, Kevin Hester
Kevin Proescholdt
Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke Attacks America’s Wilderness
Franklin Lamb
Syrian War Crimes Tribunals Around the Corner
Beth Porter
Clean Energy is Calling. Will Your Phone Company Answer?
George Ochenski
Zinke on the Hot Seat Again and Again
Lance Olsen
Somebody’s Going to Extremes
Robert Koehler
Breaking the Ice
Pepe Escobar
The Myth of a Neo-Imperial China
Graham Peebles
Time for Political Change and Unity in Ethiopia
Terry Simons
10 American Myths “Refutiated”*
Thomas Knapp
Some Questions from the Edge of Immortality
Louis Proyect
The 2018 Socially Relevant Film Festival
David Yearsley
Keaton’s “The General” and the Pernicious Myths of the Heroic South