Horn of Africa Migrants: Does Anyone Care?

By Shlomo Maital     


Again – a line of body bags.  No, not from Syrian Army poison gas attacks.  This time, an estimated 300 or more migrants from Africa’s Horn, who perished on a leaky ship bound for Lampedusa, an Italian island,  from Libya. According to the BBC  the ship’s engine failed.  Someone on board lit a fire to attract help. The fire then raged out of control. People on the ship fled the fire, too many moved to one side of the ship, and it tipped over.  Many drowned. All this took place just one kilometer, or 0.6 miles, from shore!    Italy’s conscience was aroused – the Italian Prime Minister declared a day of mourning.

       The migrants were mainly from Somalia and Eritrea.  Somalia is a failed state, has been for years, suffering from drought and famine, and is often in the news. Eritrea, on the other hand, is nearly invisible, run by a brutal dictator who does not allow journalists into his country.  The result:  Eritrea is rarely in the news, despite the brutal violence imposed against its citizens.   Until Israel built a high fence along its long border with the Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, many Eritreans fled to Ethiopia, north to Sudan, thence to Egypt, from there to Bedouin smugglers across Sinai, to Israel.  They suffered enormous hardship, extortion, blackmail and much worse.

      Total annual world military expenditure amounts to $1.75 trillion.  Suppose just five per cent of that amount,  $87.5 b.,  were allocated to programs that helped Horn of Africa migrants study and resettle in Western countries.  Ultimately, Somalis could return to rebuild their country.  Eventually, when the murderous dictator is removed, Eritreans could, too.   These migrants are full of energy, hard work and the desire to contribute. All they seek is a chance.  We have more than 50,000 of them in Israel, mostly in South Tel Aviv.   Why do 300 of them have to die, in order to arouse the world’s conscience, for an Andy Warhol 15 minutes – only to be forgotten again in no time?