President Muhammadu Buhari has described the quest of African youths to seek greener pastures abroad through illegal means as an embarrassment to African leaders.
Speaking on Sunday during the opening session of the 25th assembly of heads of state and government of the African Union in Johannesburg, South Africa, Buhari appealed to his counterparts across the continent to work towards sustaining economic growth in their respective countries.
“The images in the international mass media of African youths getting drowned in the Mediterranean sea on their illegal attempts, and often times illusory hope of attaining better life in Europe is not only an embarrassment to us as leaders, but dehumanises our persons,” he said. “
Indeed, they combine to paint a very unfavourable picture of our people and countries. Those of us gathered here today owe it as a duty to reverse this ugly trend.
We must put an end to the so-called push factors that compel our young men and women to throw caution to the winds and risk life, limbs and all, on this dangerous adventure. “We must redouble our efforts to sustain the economic development of our countries, ensure empowerment of our youths, create more jobs, improve and upgrade our infrastructure, and above all continue the enthronement of a regime of democracy, good governance and respect for human rights and rule of law. These and other measures that engender peace and stability must be pursued relentlessly.”
Buhari said the continent was experiencing a myriad of challenges.
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Their pages advertise everything from fake documents to safe passage by land, air, or sea. Many are illustrated with photos of luxury cruise liners or crisp new passports, and include package deals - "Kids go free" is a popular offer - as well as glowing testimonies that purport to be from migrants who have made the journey.
But behind the glib promises and the slick online communications is a ruthless real-world web of smugglers and con men who thrive on the vulnerability of the migrants.
This web extends not only across the Mediterranean and the Middle East but deep into sub-Saharan Africa. Abdul Aziz alone claims to have agents in "almost every Arab state" and says "if people can't get here to Libya, I have legal and illegal ways to get them into the country."
ZAWIYAH, Libya — The two 8-year-old Eritrean boys had ridden for days across the deserts of Ethiopia, Sudan and Libya packed in the back of a truck with two other children and a dozen adults. Then they spent another month trapped in a crowded farmhouse that the smugglers used as a pen to store their human cargo.
Finally, in the dark of night, a rubber dinghy ferried the two boys, Hermon Angosom and Efrem Fitwi, out to a creaking fishing boat jammed with more than 200 others, including 39 children — the youngest a 2-year-old in the arms of his mother.
Both cried. “We were afraid of the boat,” Hermon recounted impassively.
The boys had joined the unceasing flow of Arab and African migrants who are churned through the lawlessness of post-Qaddafi Libya and spewed out into the Mediterranean — more than 170,000 last year and at least as many expected this year.
It is a journey through a failed state in which border security is all but nonexistent, corruption is rampant, the coast guard rarely leaves port, and the proliferating human smuggling operations are growing ever more callous and brazen. Human trafficking from Libya across the Mediterranean was a $170 million business last year, according to conservative estimates in a recent United Nations report.
ZAWIYAH, Libya — The no-money-down offer was too tempting for the children to resist.
Smugglers had offered the boys and girls transportation out of the refugee camps along the Eritrean border, across the African deserts and the Mediterranean Sea, to a new life in Europe. There, they could quickly win asylum and bring along their parents, the smugglers assured them. Payment could come later.
By the time the smugglers had conveyed the boys and girls to Libya, however, the offer had become an ultimatum. The children, some as young as 8, called their parents to relay a demand from the smugglers for more than $3,200. For parents, failure to send the money meant abandoning their sons and daughters to the chaos of Libya.
Zackarias Hilo, 19, the oldest of about 40 Eritrean boys held by the authorities here at the time of a recent visit, said his father had initially exclaimed that he was too poor to pay. “Then I am dead!” Zackarias replied.
So to come up with the payment, “my father went to the old city to sell all his goats,” Zackarias said.
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