Kenya: Ignoring London Stowaway Is to Ignore Kenyan Youths' Crisis

9 December 2019
opinion

I once had a rather unnerving experience in London.

A young man of not more than 18 years rushed towards me at London Bridge Station and said he just wanted to say hello.

A bit weird, I thought. He informed me that he had just come off a lorry from Calais, in France, to England. (The Calais 'jungle' camp has since been closed.)

The young man said although he was in a rush, he still had to stop and say hello after seeing a familiar face in me. My jaw dropped.

I looked at him with bewilderment. I was really scared for him and still am. He seemed to know where he was going.

However, as he disappeared quickly into the crowd after our brief exchange, I gathered that he was from Eritrea.

Many people who dared to travel to Europe on the back of a lorry have ended up dead. The young Eritrean is among the lucky few.

There has been a spike in migrants' deaths in lorries in Europe this decade.

SLAVE MARKET

In 2015, more than 70 migrants died in a refrigerated lorry in Austria. This year, 39 bodies were found in a lorry in Essex, England, having been trafficked across Europe.

According to the UNHCR, nearly 1,000 migrants had died at sea by October while attempting to reach Europe.

A majority of those who died in the Mediterranean are of African descent. The migrants, who make it to Libya from all parts of Africa, now face a serious humanitarian situation in the overcrowded camp as they wait for their turn to cross to Europe on inflatable dinghies that have become deathtraps at sea for many.

In 2017, the CNN reported how African migrants, mostly men, were auctioned in a slave market in the Libyan camp.

Despite the many challenges African migrants who have been victims of smuggling face, the continent is yet to have a comprehensive plan to address the problem.

Nigeria did attempt to rescue its nationals in Libya but many still attempt to return to Libya in order to reach Europe.

But who could blame them, with economies in Africa unable to offer employment opportunities to citizens?

DISILLUSIONED CLASS

Whilst the south-north migration used to be mainly fuelled by conflict and war that was synonymous with Africa, the main reason now is economic.

Corruption and impunity have played a big part in stagnating African economies, leading to influx of economic migrants to developed countries.

The saga surrounding the suspected Kenyan stowaway in the UK still goes on as the government continues being in denial over the security lapse at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

His plight is creating an indelible stain on our conscience as the country does very little to determine who he is despite fingerprints given to Kenyan authorities by London.

His body needs to be reunited with his family to offer them some form of closure.

The other important question that we need to ask is why young people are keen to leave the country.

Even siblings of presumably well-to-do individuals would rather find a way to live in the developed world than stay in their country to build it.

Conversation with random young people in Kenya tells you that the majority are disillusioned and think the grass is greener in the West.

LIFE OF BONDAGE

That is why more and more young women move to the coast with the hope of finding wealthy foreign white men to rescue them from poverty.

Many more take their chances on people smugglers who lure them to the Middle East or Europe to their detriment.

Unbeknown to many who risk travelling abroad illegally, they find that the grass is not any greener there than at home.

Many end up in bondage, enslaved to the people smugglers as they work to repay the smugglers' debt, accrued from the charges for trafficking them.

Others migrate to chase the lives depicted in foreign movies only to end up in concrete slums instead of the mansions they swam the seas to reach.

Those are the lucky ones. Many more end up homeless. Cases of migrants finding their way to Europe and dying in the streets from hunger and freezing temperatures have become far too common.

The call to empower the youth in Kenya is not just an empty one.

END IMPUNITY

It is critical to make efforts to avert a humanitarian crisis that can easily befall young people willing to migrate for economic reasons. Empowering them would save them from preying traffickers.

Countries like Kenya can do a lot more not just for its youth but many young asylum seekers and refugees who are stateless.

By regularising the status of young refugees and asylum seekers, they stand to unlock the potential in young people from across Africa who have come to call Kenya their home. It may avert national security threats too.

Above, all the country needs to keep up the fight against corruption to safeguard the public funds so desperately required to create education and employment opportunities for young people.

Crucially, our political leaders need to think of how to build a stable and prosperous country for all.

Ms Guyo is a legal researcher. [email protected] @kdiguyo

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