The plight of African migrants in the Mediterranean
© Getty Images

The world is watching the African humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean Sea with little interest, as mostly teenagers and young West Africans die in the thousands every month in their attempts to reach European shores. Europe and the United States have no plan to help, and the situation is made worse by the political repression that is dominant in countries like the Gambia. Waking up to poverty, joblessness and political repression has made the choice of risking death in the Mediterranean easier than the option of life with great uncertainty in West Africa. Even when employed, many young Gambians are basically paid about 50 cents a day, a wage on which their entire large families depend on for food.


African migrants understand the risks of the treacherous seas of the Mediterranean when they embark to Europe on wooden makeshift boats that often capsize with few survivors, if any at all. Similarly, they get the point that their desire and willingness to escape poverty and dictatorship makes them an easy prey for human traffickers, extortion and human rights abuse in Libya (the export point to Europe). According to a recent Washington Post article, "Africa has never seen such a flood of young men heading for Europe." Gambia, it is argued, has become the biggest exporter of young people from Africa.

America seems to have been insulated from this tragedy of great magnitude that is now Europe's added crisis. But with the expanding human trafficking routes in the world, America may not be immune to this crisis for long. The moral authority of the U.S. in the world is needed for policymakers to take immediate actions. The easy policy choices of Europe's naval blockades, mass deportations and stopping smugglers at export points may not effectively address the issue, as supporting African employment agencies might. African employment agencies could provide direct employment for young Africans on American cruise ships and promote legitimate immigration policies as well as finding credible policies of keeping young Africans at home in Africa.

Recently, however, the very plausible cruise ship employment alternative for young Gambians was interrupted by one of the leading American cruise ship lines after more than 88 candidates were legitimately interviewed and hired for deployment aboard various ships. The few Gambians already deployed continue to successfully demonstrate high skills, successes and exemplary service. The success of the Gambian crew based on the raving reviews and appraisals by the human resources department is underscored by the recognition from the senior management of the cruise line. Apparently, the concern from the cruise line, is the fear of Ebola in West Africa; hence the suspension of deployment. While the threat of Ebola was and is real with great consequences for any crowded place, city or a cruise ship, for that matter, Africa is not one big village affected by dangerous diseases involving every African. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization determined during last year's Ebola crisis that mainly only three countries — Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone — had widespread Ebola virus outbreaks, with a few cases in Mali and Nigeria (Nigeria was exemplary in treating and stopping the spread of Ebola, according to all accounts by leading world health agencies).

The images of African migrants drowning or being rescued in the Mediterranean are enduring and familiar to the world. The policy response is not to ignore the African ordeal, or even punish young Africans fleeing poverty and oppression. Rather, the U.S. and Europe taking simple measures to promote the legitimate employment of young Africans in the cruise line industry is a natural place to start. Europe seems overwhelmed by the humanitarian emergency in the Mediterranean, but American policymakers could initiate the support for African employment agencies that aim to promote legitimate processes against illegal migration to Europe and America.

Gejdenson served the people and communities of eastern Connecticut in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1981 to 2000.