Death in the Mediterranean—the curious cases of Nigeria, Senegal, and the country that is a surprise omission

While Eritreans make up the majority of those fleeing into Europe, but the identity of other source countries would baffle many

THE world is still coming to terms with the horror death of up to 900 people mainly of African origin at sea on Sunday, the worse ever ‘massacre’ of its kind.

After having disbanded a mission that saved the lives of more than 100,000 people last year in a plan that spectacularly backfired, European Union leaders Thursday met in Brussels to craft a new response.

The deaths are unlikely to put off migrants and asylum seekers from attempting the dangerous sea crossing across the Mediterranean, diplomats admitted, citing the vast gulf in living standards.

Sunday’s incident involved migrants setting off from Libya, aided by smugglers who have taken advantage of the breakdown in order in the North African country since the death of long-time leader Mummar Gaddafi in 2011.

Other popular launch sites are Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.

Italy now estimates as many as 200,000 people will cross to its shores this year, up from about 170,000 reported by the International Organisation for Migration for last year, and 60,000 in 2013.

The nationality of the African migrants shows Eritrea continues to be the most represented country. 

In 2013 some 366 people died off the Italian island of Lampedusa, when the fishing boat they had set off in from Libya capsized. Nearly all the victims were Eritrean.

According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, Eritrea had the the highest number of asylum seekers of any African nation, with 48,000 applications registered in 2014— more than double the 22,300 claims made in 2013, marking a trend of a steady increase over the last five years.

It is a short distance to Lampedusa from Libya, encouraging repeated attempts at crossings.

According to figures from the UNHCR, some 34,000 Eritreans attempted the crossing into the European Union, the next highest after Syrians, who numbered 67,000.

Mali, which has in recent years been destabilised by civil war, was the second highest country of origin, with 10,000 reported last year.

The Gambia had some 9,000 people attempting to make it into the European Union, but the identity of the next highest country is a relative surprise.

Some 9,000 people from Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, bid to make the dangerous border crossing by sea. 

Nigeria also submitted more applications for asylum to the world’s richest 44 countries than Somalia last year. Some 22,069 Nigerians sought protection in the West, as compared to 19,857 Somalis. ( Read: 7 surprising things about asylum seekers from Africa)

This might be explained by the fact that it is also the continent’s most populous nation, in addition to having a deadly conflict in its north-east region, but it would still be disconcerting news for many proud Nigerians.

A different West African dynamic  is alluded to by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime: families and circles attach important social value to those who decide to leave, be it legally or illegally, even though their situation in Europe is often worse than it was at home.

In  this clip on the crossing, a young man calls his mother on arrival in Italy, and he happily tells he has made it to Europe, despite being at a detention camp. His mother replies that she is very happy, and will now sleep very well.

Seven thousand people from Somalia attempted the crossing, as the country continues to recover from a two-decade war that destroyed its economy and made millions of its citizens refugees.

More Ghanaians also sought asylum in the West than Libyans over the last two years. This was 7,649 Ghanaians, to 6,529 Libyans, despite the North African country seemingly being ungovernable since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.

In 2010, Ghana declared itself “scandalised” after 200 Ghanaian World Cup fans  sought asylum in host nation Brazil, citing religious conflict in the West African country, one of the most stable in the region. 

Another surprise country of origin from Africa was Senegal, which is seen as a stable and model African democracy, with 5,000 documented last year.

A surprise omission from the top six origin countries was Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country. 

The country this week started a three-day mourning for more than 20 migrant workers who were killed in Libya by the local branch of the Islamic State.

They were thought to be in the country as a stepping stone into Europe, leading prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn to urge Ethiopians to avoid making the “death journey” across the Sahara desert into Europe.

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