Photo Courtesy of AFP
Ever since Italy's Five Star and League parties came to power in June 2018 relations between France and Italy have been tensed; this tension has centered mainly on the issue of migration. It kicked off with the dispute between the two countries over France sending back migrants across Italy's northern border.
This tensed relationship came to a head last week in reference to the 172 migrants feared drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. France criticized Italy for not allowing rescue boats carrying migrants in the Mediterranean to dock and Italy responded by accusing France of refusing to accept migrants.
According to Italy’s Mr. Di Maio, "France has no reason to get upset because it pushed away tens of thousands of migrants [at the French border], abandoning them there as though they were beasts." Mr. Di Maio went further to call on the EU to impose sanctions on France and all countries like France that “impoverish Africa and make these people leave, because Africans should be in Africa, not at the bottom of the Mediterranean," His fellow deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, backed his comments, saying France was looking to extract wealth from Africa rather than helping countries develop their own economies. What Italy’s Di Maio is saying here is that Africans have two choices when it comes to migration: stay in Africa or at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea.
The issue and/or debate between France and Italy centers on who is and has exploited and abused Africa and Africans the most. So, which and who is worse: those exploiting Africa which is pushing Africans to migrate to countries in Europe in the quest for a better life, or the countries in Europe who would rather see Africans at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea than on their shores?
African organizations and personalities have been commenting on this current row between France and Italy. I have read some reactions from Africans that appear to sound more aggrieved over Italy’s accusation that France is still colonizing Africa as opposed to Italy’s complicity in the deaths of African in the Mediterranean Sea.
My fellow Africans and friends of Africa, we must not get distracted by the colonialism statement and reference. This allusion is a ploy to distract us from the current issue regarding the treatment of African migrants in Europe and the fact that some countries are quite comfortable with letting Africans die as a deterrent to having them in their countries. As far as I am concerned, if Italy would allow African migrants to be treated the way they have in the last two years, I am certain it does not really care if France is exploiting Africa or not.
Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini's anti-immigrant League has surged in popularity, with opinion polls putting the party on 30 percent, up from the 17 percent since it won in the election. This new government is very proud of its anti- migration achievement so far: in 2018, 22,500 migrants landed on Italy's coasts, representing a drop of more than 80 percent compared to 2017. In celebrating this achievement Project Rights, Italy’s anti-migrants and anti-migration group, stated proudly that "First of all, we started two years ago criminalizing those who save thousands of lives at sea" and ended up "closing ports to boats loaded with survivors".
In summary, by default, Italy took on the policy, and implemented a practice of allowing migrants drown at sea as a deterrent to migration. In conclusion, Project Rights proudly declares that "Today with the Salvini decree, we have abolished humanitarian protection, creating an endless stream of people forced into hiding,". Between 2016 – 2018 an average of 2,500 migrants died annually on the central Mediterranean route.
It would be a shame for Africa and Africans to start taking sides on the current debate and row between France and Italy. The continent cannot get caught up on the nuances of whether France is still colonizing Africa or not. While that is debatable, what is clear and without doubt is the action and positions that Italy and France have taken against many African migrant leading to their death and other forms of abuses. France and Italy can do something about their migration policies and practices which is leading to the death of Africans. We can commence with the philosophical debate of whether Africa is still being colonized and in what ways and by whom later?
The issues Africans are facing today on the migration path whether regular or not is now beyond words. We are so caught up on the irregular migration route issue that we forget the horrendous treatment Africans face even when travelling regularly through airports in Europe.
We need a strong African action on the abuses Africans suffer while travelling either through regular or irregular routes. Please the African Union etc. should not waste their time right now debating if, who and how we are being colonized. Africans are dying in migration, that is the pressing issue.