I am an optimistic person. I have always seen my Africa as a continent with lots of opportunities and potential, that only needed more time to shine than the rest of the world. Today us, the African youth, the African young leaders, are driving our countries towards a prosperous and better future. However, one doesn’t easily give up on its old habits, even when you’re as big as a continent and as willing to change as we Africans are. African leadership is suffering from persistent poverty, lack of infrastructure, violence, conflict, political instability or on the contrary old politician elite who don’t want to pass on their leadership to the new generation and so on. This dysfunctional leadership affects youngster over here and sometimes push them to take life-changing decision: THEY TRY TO MIGRATE TO EUROPE.
This is when African youth become refugees or migrants. This is when Africa’s future migrates for the sake of a better life.
For a couple of months, two young Eritrean guys were my neighbors, right before they started their journey to Europe. Eritrea is just after Syria in terms of numbers of refugees who try to reach Europe. Eritreans leave their country because of the national-service program (conscription). In practice it is basically indefinite forced labor which can be seen almost as slavery. The only way to escape it is to flee abroad.
One day the two guys and I sat and talked. They were quite young, 14 and 22 years old. They told me they came here from Eritrea through the UNHCR but had no intention to stay in Ethiopia and were planning to go to Europe instead, that they had family living there. I asked them how they were planning to make it there and they said they knew the road; through Sudan, Libya and then Italy. I couldn’t understand why they would risk taking this dangerous journey; leading to an uncertain future, while they could just stay in Ethiopia.
Their choice strikes me even more because Ethiopia offers free education to refugees, as well as access to healthcare in an effort to empower its youth. Ethiopia is the largest refugee hosting nation in Africa and the government has an open-door-policy towards refugees; camps have been built to accommodate them with access to humanitarian services, there is police presence onsite and they are also allowed to live outside of the camps. Eritreans are mostly welcomed by Ethiopians. Our countries are enemies and so are we supposed to be I guess, but I believe that whatever leadership problem Eritrea is facing and bad relations it has with my country, we are still brother nations and we share the same culture. I do believe that empowering them instead of letting them go will create a better Africa.
So I was really wondering what could be their motivations to be stronger than all the danger they might face on their way such as smugglers, extremists, crossing the sea on tiny boats etc, especially for such young guys in their working young age. They told me that they knew about all of this, they knew about the risks but that God would never let them down and that they would make it “‘with His help”. This is how strong the fantasy about Europe is… Their vision of Europe is indeed pure fantasy. They think that they know how life is over there and that it is good enough to undertake this journey. What they hear from other people or even from people who are already living in Europe is not the reality (many migrants who made it to Europe are ashamed of their situation or don’t want to worry their families back home so they lie about their life and perpetuate fantasies about Europe).
This story is not only about my Eritrean, African brothers and sisters leaving the continent; it’s the story of a whole young generation who migrates around the world, who is sick of the “bad” leaderships and “sick” systems. What can we do to stop these young people’s suffering and boredom? What can we do to stop them from leaving the continent?
After one month in Ethiopia they left and I never heard of them again. A short time after I heard news from the BBC that hundreds of migrants had died in the Mediterranean Sea. I couldn’t help but wonder if they had made it to Europe or if their journey stopped in the sea… I tried to imagine how their families could be feeling when hearing all these tragic news about migrants drowning, without knowing if their sons, brothers, cousins were still alive.
I don’t judge or blame these guys’ decision to leave. Sometime I also think myself that I would like to go to Europe and get a better education than what I can get in Africa. But I am not willing to go through illegal ways to do it and above all I want to work for the improvement of my country more than any personal envy I can have for myself. Deep inside I am convinced that these two young guys didn’t really chose the migration path. Africa’s current situation chose for them. If only our current leaders would listen to the youth, listen to their advises and ideas to make a change in Africa and to foster Africa’s development, maybe they would solve this young migration trend.
I also think that dealing with the ‘migrant crisis’ is not only about ‘protecting’ Europe from this “influx of population” but also about taking actions against terror and abuse of human rights that are flourishing around “the migration roads”. Addressing this issue is also a way of bringing more peace and security in the regions affected. Ethiopia, with the help of international agencies and international funds, could be in a great position to coordinate African migration and provide young African migrants with the mean to empower themselves into building a good life and to have the opportunity to later on play a significant in their country of origin.