Forced out by violence, African immigrants cross to Europe

The journey of any refugee starts in a broken homeland. Across North Africa and the Middle East, a variety of issues have pushed more and more people to migrate towards Europe.

“The increase (in immigrants) has been unbelievable,” Ben Suleiman, head of an immigrant processing brigade in Libya, told IRIN News. “It seems like every time we deport 10 migrants, 100 come into the system.”

Libya’s proximity to Europe, combined with harsh economic hardship and violent unrest in and around it, has made it a hot spot for immigrants. According to the International Business Times, 25,650 immigrants crossed to Italy from Libya between January and April of this year.

From the conflict with Gaddafi to the civil war in the Congo, various problems have erupted through the region that caused this movement.

Impossible to forget, the violent outbreak of civil war around former Prime Minister Gaddafi uprooted thousands of Libyans. Recently, Sudan’s split failed to bring peace to a country already torn by violence over valuable oil reserves.

In Israel, immigrants from elsewhere in Africa are locked out and refused aid. Some asylum-seekers are even unlawfully detained, according to The BBC. The refugees have begun to protest, but many must continue on toward Europe, often in harsh, dangerous ways.

More concerned with the destination than the trip, immigrant families board small, overcrowded and tipsy fishing boats. The crafts often meet trouble along the way, and early this September, 500 immigrants drowned when traffickers rammed their ship.

Two of the nine crash survivors testified that the traffickers destroyed their boat when the passengers refused to move to a new craft in the middle of the Mediterranean.

“We don’t have confirmation of this account of alleged ramming,” said U.N. Refugee Agency spokesman Francis Markus in an interview with The BBC. “That was given to Malta authorities by survivors, but we can’t confirm it.”

If they successfully make the crossing, immigrants come face to face with European nations whose reactions to the newcomers have varied widely.

“I would attribute different European responses to African immigration to the different political and economic conditions in those countries,” said Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology Thomas Guthrie. “For example, ideas in France about secularism and tolerance complicate immigration politics there.”

France’s experience with new immigrants has been more than complicated.

The state of general social tolerance in France means many of the country’s citizens grow upset when immigrants from anywhere refuse to adopt French customs.

“France used to own Algeria,” said Assistant Professor of Political Science Robert Duncan. “And after the bloody civil war fought there for independence, the French developed an identity that looked down on anything not Gallic.”

France’s European neighbor Germany has taken a radically different stance.

After receiving 127,000 requests for asylum last year, Germany has taken an extremely open stance on immigrants. Governments organize events for immigrant children to play with native German children in order to ease their transition into a new culture.

“Children of immigrants are often treated like interpreters for family because they learn German more quickly,” said Gloria Amoruso, co-founder of immigrant education group kein Abseits! in an interview with Reuters. “They grow up fast, so this is a way for them to be kids again.”

Support for the German approach seems high around campus.

“I can understand countries like Britain, that suffer from overpopulation, not wanting more people to come into the country,” said Early College junior Yasmine Byungura. “But at the same time, I really think countries that can should take in these people and give them food and shelter for as long as they can.”