More than five million Ukrainians have been welcomed into Europe and given special asylum. In stark contrast, migrants from across Africa are facing perilous journeys at the hands of smuggling kingpins. In a report from Tunisia, CNN's David McKenzie investigates what is known as the deadliest migration route in the world.
Migrants flood into Tunisia from across Africa, often working for years to save enough money to pay the people smugglers. "This route is the best way”, says Deborah, an Ivorian migrant who asked CNN to use an assumed name because of fears for her safety. "Here in Tunisia, it is bad, we live illegally. When we get to Europe we will live illegally too. But the conditions will be better, we have no liberty here."
She hopes to make the crossing to Europe with her four-month-old daughter by saving up to use a smuggler, “Often I'm afraid, but sometimes I am not afraid because I see the problems I am going through. When I see our future in my dreams, my fears vanish.”
McKenzie also meets a smuggling kingpin, who outlines his brutal calculations in human lives, “If we organize six trips and two are caught, then four make it through. There are no guarantees at sea. The authorities could catch you. Unless you die. Then death is your destiny.”
The people smuggler spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity because of the severe criminal penalties he faces if caught and convicted for organizing departures. He said he plans to send his wife and young daughter to Europe next year, “People leave our country because it is bad, Tunis is bad because there is no money, there is no work, there is nothing. When people go to Europe, at least they can live.”
After a massive peak in 2015, the number of people crossing the Mediterranean was on a downward trend, but since 2021 the number of those trying to make the journey has been climbing again and the journeys are becoming more deadly, according to the International Organization for Migration. The United Nations and Tunisian officials say they are now witnessing the biggest surge in illegal migration to Europe since the Arab Spring began in 2011.
Ramadan Bin Omar, from NGO the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, speaks about this increase in people making the treacherous journey, “Tunisia today is going through political, economic and social crises. The Covid pandemic also resulted in even more poverty and marginalization and pushed thousands to take the boats of death."
While millions of Ukrainians fleeing the war in their homeland are welcomed with open arms in countries across Europe, migrants coming from across the African continent are facing a very different outlook. Bin Omar speaks about Europe’s willingness to take in certain refugees over others, "Political systems still look at humans based on their color, gender, religion and ethnicity and don't look at them as people who are entitled to the same rights and at the same level."
Col. Ayman Mbarki of the Tunisian Coastguard says even with the latest boats, funded with help from the EU and the USA, it is impossible to stop the flow of migrants, “We find a lot of migrant bodies of all nationalities: Tunisians and other Africans. We see elderly, we see young, we even see babies. This affects my teams."
Mbarki tells McKenzie that even when his teams catch migrants, once released they often try to make the crossing again, “No matter how much you train or what equipment you have, if you do not cure the deep causes of the illegal migration, then this will just continue.”