Looking at the tragedy unfolding in the Mediterranean, some observers are evoking of forty years when another catastrophic geopolitical event known as the Vietnam War was coming to its conclusion.
Tens of thousands of Vietnamese people were scrambling to flee the so-called Communist forces that prevailed over the U.S. and various western, Asian, South Atlantic and other allies, and were putting a stranglehold on what would inevitably be a united country.
At that time the so-called “boat people” to escape Vietnam was using anything that could float. [See any of the many documentaries chronicling that period.]
As UQAM professor and journalist Antoine Char recently wrote in Journal Metro, “there was a global mobilization to save the boat people fleeing communism.”
Four decades on, with conflicts raging in the Middle East and parts of Africa, thousands are again risking their lives to escape those places by crossing the Mediterranean to find the proverbial “better life” in Europe. But there’s not much enthusiasm in Europe, Australia and elsewhere to come to the aid of refugees/asylum seekers… They are from Africa and the Middle East.
As the professor writes, “Europe cannot welcome all the misery of the world, often caused by fraud, corruption, wars, droughts… All of which have made Africa the poorest continent on the planet, despite its innumerable natural wealth…”
And if the European colonial powers of the day had known then what would’ve happened centuries on, the late 20th and continuing a decade-and-a half into the 21st century, the kings and queens and politicians would’ve left Africa and what today is called the Middle East alone. But greed being what it is, Europe and its Diaspora wanted what was available (and still is) in those parts of the world, which they concluded was there for the taking, so they opted to colonize, Christianize, repress, foment and plunder… with the sole objective of having unfettered and indefinite access to the abundant wealth/resources there for their taking…
Getting there was easy (and economically viable); simply cross the Mediterranean to North Africa to secure what’s available there, oil for example, then venture southward, deeper into Africa’s bowel where Europe could have it all (then and still now) to build and enrich itself – thanks to the bountiful natural and human resources, for free. History notwithstanding, not much has changed in the imbalanced relationship; Europe, especially the primary colonial powers, still has ready access to Africa and the Middle East and those things that keep the world turning – economically.
When Europeans landed on Africa’s shores hundreds of years ago, uninvited, what did “the natives” do? They welcomed them with open arms, as natives around the world are wont to. In retrospect, much to their detriment. Just look around the world. Today, we’re witnessing how that extended period of history, hundreds of years ago, has disfavoured “the natives” in every conceivable way, depriving them of their [resourceful] birthright. For natives, nothing about that “contact” has had any redeeming qualities – then or now.
Europe’s insatiable lust for oil, gold, timber, uranium, copper, platinum, silver, manganese, diamonds coltan… and now land, extracted and transported across the Mediterranean, the Atlantic (depending on which point of departure was closer to the colonial power) juxtaposed with today’s seemingly insolvable conflicts sustained by ready access to weapons manufactured primarily in Europe, the U.S. (Western countries) is a major reason for the thousands who have been risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean.
Wherever there’s conflict there’s hardship and a proliferation of refugees invariably resorting to acts of desperation: seeking refuge wherever possible. It’s what we’re witnessing in the Mediterranean. And many people are of the opinion that the Middle East and Africa are nothing less than geopolitical exercises fomented by (a history of) the usual international suspects interference… not just today, but beginning centuries ago. It’s all culminating today in drownings in the Mediterranean and those lucky enough to wash up on Italian shores.
That historical truth prompted a Scottish panelist on a recent edition of BBC’s Hardtalk to opine that Europe has a lot to atone for. Their colonial actions centuries ago are for the most part responsible for what we’re witnessing today. It’s Europe’s chickens (of centuries past) coming home to roost as it were on the European mainland. All seeking an escape from war, religious, ethnic and tribal conflict and extremism… on the other side of the Mediterranean.
Unlike the Vietnamese boat people, the Mediterranean boat people are not that lucky.
In seeking an emergency European Union meeting to discuss “the crisis of refugees trying to get to Europe by sea,” the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi described the human trafficking as “the new slave trade” of the 21st century. The difference this century is that the children of the slaves are leaving for Europe voluntarily.
Maybe the Prime Minister Renzi studied a little African history and knows that his country for a brief moment in time made Libya (a country now rife with chaos since that Western militaristic organization liberated it from the grip of their fall guy, Muammar Gaddafi in 2011) one of its African colonies. He also said Europe was witnessing “systematic slaughter in the Mediterranean.”
I sense a bit of humanitarianism and sympathy there.
Europe is now being forced to come to terms with its colonial past; problem is, in the face of all the evidence drowning in transit (like those 1,000 or so migrants who drowned in the attempted crossing two weeks ago) or washing up on its Mediterranean shores. Africa is capable of breeding millions of people every year – they cannot keep coming to Europe in this never-ending stream. The answers require both wider publicity about these drownings to discourage the rest and population control in Africa and other countries that source this river of economic migrants (posing as asylum seekers). Those foolish enough to attempt a crossing must be turned back – by military force! Europe has plenty of poor people of its own and must not accept those from other countries.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott says there is a way to put an end to the tragic deaths of migrants making the perilous journey from North Africa to Europe. His advice to the European Union: Follow Australia’s example and send the boats back. “
“We have got hundreds, maybe thousands of people drowning in the attempts to get from Africa to Europe,” Mr. Abbott said. “The only way you can stop the deaths is in fact to stop the boats…”
In other words, Australia for Australians.
Too bad Australia’s original peoples didn’t push the boats back into the sea when Britain dumped its prisoners on Australia’s shores… a couple centuries ago.
Most importantly, if Africa’s tribal leaders were not so naïve and welcoming, Africa (and its tens of millions of human sacrifices so far) might be in a better Africa today.