A boat carrying as many as 500 immigrants that sunk off the Italian Island of Lampedusa has sparked debate on why Africans appear determined to make such a foolhardy journey to get to Europe. At least 300 people are feared to have died when the boat caught fire a few hundred metres from the Island. About 150 were rescued.
Most of the immigrants appear to be from Eritrea and past deadly incidents have involved immigrants from Egypt, Nigeria, Senegal, and other West African nationalities.
Although Italy declared Oct.4 a day of mourning for the dead with flags across the country flying at half-mast, East African governments where most of the dead are from have remained conspicuously quiet.
Instead, a few of them like Uganda are happy to celebrate the contribution made to the economy by the few who survive such perilous migration challenges.
Uganda was in 2010 listed among the top 10 African countries with most migrants. Up to 750,000 Ugandan are recorded to have migrated that year. Uganda was also listed among countries obtaining sizeable sums through remittances. Other African countries include Ethiopia, Lesotho, Mali, Senegal, Togo, and Yemen.
Most of those moving are typically young adult males looking for a better life.
The Uganda Investment Authority Executive Director, Frank Ssebowa announced in May that for the last three years, nationals living abroad have been transferring more than US$700 million annually to Uganda. He said the money from so-called kyeyo (meaning "broom" because most do menial jobs abroad) is projected to grow to over US$1 billion by 2014.
Although some of the Ugandans abroad are either trafficked, are illegals, or are involved in dangerous occupation, the government has not done much to assist them.
Many Ugandans have migrated to the Middle East, especially the United Arab Emirates and Iraq. Some have made money but others speak of being trafficked under false promises, torture at the hands of their employers and other horrors.
In February, some women testified before parliament that their body parts had been forcefully harvested and sold by their employers. They were among over 120 people taken to Iraq by the Uganda Veterans Development Ltd whose license was revoked in 2009 after numerous complaints about maltreatment of Ugandan workers in Iraq.
Since the Lampedusa disaster, Human rights groups in West Africa have been appealing to African governments to address the "irregular or illegal migration problem".
Raddho, a Senegalese-based rights wants civil society groups to work together to "inform young people of the dangers of illegal or irregular migration, which is considered the road to suicide".
The demand by the civil rights groups are backed up by the latest United Nations report assessing net gains and losses from such migrations from and within the so-called Low Developed Countries.
Treated as criminals
The UNCTAD report shows that migrating to Europe, where they are unwanted and are treated as criminals, is not very beneficial to poor Africans. Instead, Africans stand to gain more from moving within region of their continent; in the so-called South-South migration.
The 2012 report of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) focuses on "Harnessing Remittances and Diaspora Knowledge to Build Productive Capacities".
It shows that Ugandans working in Kenya send more money home; US$336 million in 2010, than those working in the UK; US$176 million.
That is more money than what all migrants who are dying to enter Europe send home from Italy, France, Spain, Belgium, Portugal, and the UK.
Most of those dying to enter Europe are from West Africa.
But statistics show that the only remittances from Italy to LDCs go to Burkina Faso; US$1.4 million and Senegal US$248 million.
Lampedusa, a rocky island, is a popular crossing point because it lies closer to mainland Africa than Italy. It is just 80kms from the Tunisian coast; approximately the distance from Kampala to Jinja. That is partly the reason it has become a popular crossing point in the last 10 years.
A Time magazine story said Lampedusa's 6,000 residents are often outnumbered by thousands of migrants housed in improvised camps on the island.
In July, Pope Francis visited the Island of Lampedusa because, he said, the repeated deaths of migrants were like thorns piecing his heart.
After the latest deaths, an emotional Pope Francis tweeted that Oct.3 was "a day of tears" in a "savage world" that ignored refugees.
It has also been said that Italy is a transit point to the rest of Europe. But the largest remittances to an African LDC country are from Saudi Arabia to Sudan at US$1028 million.
That is followed by US$308 million from France to Sierra Leone, and US$309 million from France to Senegal.
The rest are very tiny figures; US$28.4 million from France to Benin,US$24.7 million from Portugal to Mozambique, US$ 20 million from Spain to Gambia, US$15.3 million from Belgium to Rwanda, and US$4.9 million from Portugal to Guinea Bissau.
Those figures are barely comparable to regional south-to-south remittances like the US$457 million from South Africa to Lesotho, US$121 million from Côte d'Ivoire to Mali, US$87 million from Nigeria to Benin, and US$51 million from South Africa to Mozambique.
In 2010, it was estimated that as much as two-thirds of recorded remittances to LDCs originated in other Southern countries.
It notes "subregional hubs" of remittances such as Côte d'Ivoire, Kenya or South Africa.
The report recommends that "governments in LDCs need to be aware of the actual extent and pattern of cross-border migration, the location, spread and nature of diaspora activities and the extent and pattern of remittances".
Most of the immigrants from West Africa where the highest number of those dying in the dinghy boats originate are low skilled labourers who are unlikely to make or remit that much money.
The 48 poorest countries in the world, where the average income of each citizen per year is less than US$1000, accounted for 13% of global emigration stocks.
That is a lot of people or some 3.3% of the LDC population.
The report says high migration within sub-Saharan Africa "probably reflects the fact that (a) much of African migration is forced and by poor people, as a result of which proximity is crucial; and (b) Africans generally face great difficulty entering other countries".
In Senegal and Burkina Faso where only a fraction of the remittance-sending emigrants are tertiary-educated, their contribution to total remittances flows is less than 10%.
In contrast in Uganda, it says, almost half of the international remitting emigrants are high-skilled, they account for two-thirds of total remittance flows to the country.
And, the report warns, earning from Europe are likely to get even tighter.
The Eurozone has performed very badly economically since 2008 as it fought off a debt crisis imported from the U.S.
Although Euro Zone economies have been growing steadily for the second quarter after the longest recession since 1999, they are not in the clear yet. In August they grew a modest quarterly rate of 0.3 percent after contracting for six straight quarters.
In August, the New York Times newspaper reported that there were 13.9 million unemployed adults in the Euro zone. That is the highest number since the euro was created in 1999.
Only Germany, which had 1.9 million German adults -- defined as people at least 25 years old -- were counted as unemployed, meaning they were looking for work but had not found it, appeared to be faring well.
Spain had the worst unemployment rates at 26%, Italy 12% and Portugal at 16%. The Unemployment rate for the UK was hovering around 7.85 for the UK in August. These are among the worst figures for the UK in two decades. Yet these are the very countries most illegal African immigrants head to. Many of these Africans still do not know that this is one of the worst times for anyone seeking a better life through better paid to be heading to Europe.
In the first six months of 2013 as many as 8,000 Eritreans had arrived on Italy's southern shores and 40 had died making the journey, according to news reports from Italy. On July 8 as Pope Francis visited the Island, 160 immigrants from Eritrea arrived by rickety boat at the port of Lampedusa.
The Pope said he was in Lampedusa after learning of a recent incident in which migrants had died while attempting the crossing from North Africa.
A day before on July 7, another boatload of about 160 immigrants had arrived in the port of Reggio Calabria on the southern mainland.
Official figures show that the number of migrants landing on Italian shores in 2013 has more than doubled over a 40-day period during July and August to 8,932 bringing the total migrant arrivals for 2013 to 17,167.
Thirty-one people are believed to have died crossing to Lampedusa. Survivors of the journey from Libya reportedly told authorities that the vessel in which they were travelling capsized and more than half of its 53 passengers drowned. The 22 people rescued are from a variety of west African countries including Nigeria, Benin, the Gambia and Senegal.
A Sicilian court opens investigation after six young Egyptians drown while trying to swim 20 metres from a wooden fishing boat to the shore.