The UN said the first quarter of 2023 was the deadliest since 2023. Photo: AP

By Yahya Habil

Over the past decade, the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean has emerged as a matter of significant importance and concern for several countries in the Mediterranean Basin and the European Union.

Countries such as Italy and Greece have experienced a substantial influx of African migrants originating from both Libya and Tunisia.

Notably, in 2014, Italy saw an unprecedented arrival of 170,000 refugees, marking the highest number of migrants in the European Union's history.

Fast-forward to 2023, Italy's intelligence is projecting an even more substantial influx, with an estimated 700,000 migrants expected to cross the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy.

This projection underscores that the migrant crisis remains a pressing issue, continuing to be relevant and increasingly concerning as time progresses.

The migration of these individuals to other European countries has resulted in heightened tensions between communities and occasional disruptions in safety. Irregular migration presents both challenges and opportunities for the host countries.

Libya and Tunisia are the  main departure points for migrants. Reuters

On one hand, there are potential costs related to border security, law enforcement, detention facilities, and the processing of asylum claims.

Additionally, providing social services and healthcare to undocumented migrants can also impose financial burdens.

Economic exploitation

However, it is worth noting that undocumented migrants may also make economic contributions by filling labour gaps and paying taxes, although quantifying these contributions remains a challenge.

The financial impact of illegal migration is a subject of ongoing debate, with estimates varying significantly based on the methodology used and the specific circumstances of each country.

This complex issue extends beyond economic considerations and encompasses social, political, and humanitarian aspects.

Addressing only the symptoms will not lead to a solution, as the root of the issue lies far back in history when Western countries exploited Africa through the slave trade, resource extraction, forced labor, cultural exploitation, and divide-and-rule tactics.

Each of Africa's 54 African countries is blessed with huge mineral resources. Photo: Reuters

This historical legacy has left Africa in turmoil, forcing some to flee with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Some may argue that the Western countries are, in a way, repaying an old debt to Africa, albeit not in the most desirable manner.

The question of how the West exploited Africa is a complex historical topic that involves centuries of colonialism, imperialism, and economic exploitation – an overview is critical though to understand the current situation and how maybe to best tackle it.

Italy is currently experiencing the consequences of its past contributions to igniting the fire in Africa centuries ago.


This situation is drawing global attention to the root issue, albeit not in the most ideal manner, but with the hope that it may eventually benefit Africa in the long run.

Some of Italy's political figures, including Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, have been vocal in placing the blame on France, and this debate has been ongoing even before her appointment as Prime Minister.

Giorgia Meloni's viral video sheds light on the vicious cycle Africa and Europe find themselves entangled in, making it worth watching to better understand the complexities of the situation.

Illustrating France's ongoing exploitation, Pambazuka News reports that since 1961, France has held the national reserves of 14 of its former colonies.

Furthermore, it is estimated that France retains nearly $500 billion of African countries' funds in its treasury, restricting these nations' access to their own money.

Only 15% of these funds can be accessed by the countries annually, forcing them to borrow the remaining 85% at commercial rates, effectively holding their own money hostage.

Confined migrants

To compound the issue, France imposes limits on the amount these countries may borrow from the reserves, exacerbating their economic dependency and hindering their financial sovereignty.

Despite the evident correlation between the West’s ongoing exploitation of Africa and the current migrant crisis, Western countries often resort to complaining about the influx of migrants and laying blame on countries like Libya and Tunisia, where migrants depart for Europe.

Tragically, many of these migrants who do manage to reach Europe face persistent racism in several European societies.

The absence of constructive solutions from the EU perpetuates a never-ending cycle of the crisis. However, there have been recent calls from some EU leaders, notably Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, to address the issue's root causes.

While Meloni's claims hold merit, it does not absolve Italy of its own responsibilities, as the country has been implicated in contributing to the persistence of the migration cycle through acts of racism and inhumane treatment.

Italy has been struggling to cope with influx of migrants this year mainly from Tunisia. Photo: Reuters

For instance, there have been reports of migrants arriving in Italy being confined in permanent repatriation centers and forcibly drugged before being sent back to their countries of origin.

Better chance

Such practices only exacerbate the suffering and complexity of the migrant crisis, calling for a comprehensive and humane approach to address the underlying causes and ensure the dignity and rights of all those affected.

Putting an end to this crisis requires the EU to present constructive solutions aimed at addressing the issue at its roots in Africa. One such approach involves easing the controlling and restrictive policies imposed by France and Britain on African economies.

Additionally, building resilient economies in the Sub-Saharan countries, which contribute significantly to the migrant numbers, should be prioritised instead of measures like the recent aid to Tunisia.

While aid to Tunisia is essential to alleviate its financial needs, focusing on the development of Sub-Saharan Africa holds the key to resolving the crisis fundamentally.

By directing resources and support to these nations, there is a better chance of breaking the cycle of migration and fostering sustainable growth in the region.

The author, Yahya Habil, is a Libyan freelance journalist focusing on African affairs. He is currently working with a think tank in the Middle East.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT Afrika.

TRT Afrika