World View: Europe Pledges to Solve the Unsolvable Migrant Problem

AP Photo
The Associated Press

This morning’s key headlines from

  • The flood of farmer suicides continues to grow in India
  • Europe pledges to solve the unsolvable migrant problem
  • Eritrea: The most repressive regime in the world

The flood of farmer suicides continues to grow in India

Gajendra Singh's suicide note (Indian Express)
Gajendra Singh’s suicide note (Indian Express)

On Thursday, a farmer in India’s Uttar Pradesh, near Delhi, committed suicide by consuming pesticide. He had suffered crop losses due to bad weather.

Just one day earlier, Gajendra Singh, a farmer, had committed suicide by hanging himself from a tree in the middle of a crowded anti-government political rally. The farmer left a suicide note:

My father has thrown me out of house as my entire crop had been destroyed. I have three children. […] Please tell me, how do I go home.

Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan.

The last line means “Hail the soldier, hail the farmer.” It is a slogan from the 1960s, when India was facing two simultaneous crises — war with Pakistan, and a severe shortage of food.

The farmer killed himself in support of the political rally, whose purpose was to protest proposed changes by prime minister Narendra Modi to India’s Land Acquisition law. The proposed changes will, in many circumstances, allow the government to take a farmer’s land without his consent, without concern for the social impact, and with reduced compensation.

However, the Land Acquisition law is not the principal cause of farmer suicides. The principal cause is the weather.

Whether it is India’s historically severe drought in 2012, or the historically high abundance of rainfall and hail so far this year, India’s crops depend on the weather. This year, cotton farmers are hit with a double whammy: the crop was good last year, so cotton prices are low, while this year’s crops have been adversely affected by the weather. So farmers have a small crop to sell at low prices.

A poor crop means that the farmer cannot repay his debts or feed his family. According to one widow, “He was in so much debt. He wasn’t getting any money from cotton. He chose death over distress.”

There has been a recent wave of 40 farmer suicides. Over 600 farmers have committed suicide so far this year. There are thousands or tens of thousands of farmer suicides every year. Government data shows 11,772 farmers committed suicide in 2013 across India, which is 44 deaths every day. Indian Express and Economic Times (India) and DNA India and CNN and New Delhi TV

Europe pledges to solve the unsolvable migrant problem

Estimates range from 500,000 to 1 million for the number of migrants who have come from other countries to Libya, waiting for their turn to travel to Europe. Analysts expect around 200,000 of them to reach EU this year. They spend thousands of dollars — their life savings — to be put on a rubber dinghy or rickety boat to be allowed to cross the Mediterranean Sea, counting on being saved by someone if the boat gets into trouble as many do.

However, some 1600 migrants have died crossing the Mediterranean in the last couple of weeks, and this forced the EU to hold an emergency meeting in Brussels on Thursday to find a solution.

One outcome of the meeting was that EU leaders pledged 120 million euros annually to redeploy a search and rescue program similar to the “Mare Nostrum” program that Italy funded on its own until November of last year, and which rescued over 200,000 migrants last year. However, that was the easy decision, especially because there are some restrictions and because it is not clear that all the money will be funded.

On the other hand, there are several problems that were not solved:

  • Increasing the funding for a search-and-rescue program is only going to increase the number of migrants reaching Europe. The proposal is that they be distributed more or less evenly among the 28 EU countries. But the UK in particular said it did not want any of them, and other countries have expressed reluctance as well.
  • One proposal is for European naval vessels to block the most widely used ports in Libya. However, this would require the position of Libya’s government, and Libya is currently in chaos with two governments.
  • There are only a finite number of boats available in Libya, and there are reports of a shortage of boats, which explains the very poor quality of the boats that the traffickers are using. The proposal is to ask the Libyan authorities to confiscate all available boats along the Mediterranean shore, so that they cannot be used. Once again, this may not be possible with Libya’s government in chaos.

Even if the ports could be blocked or all the boats could be confiscated, there would still be a crisis in Libya with hundreds of thousands of migrants waiting to travel to Europe. Even worse, the crisis would turn to violence because the traffickers will do anything to continue extracting thousands of dollars from each migrant.

With warm weather approaching, the height of the migrant season is just beginning. It is safe to assume that Thursdays meeting in Brussels will have done nothing to solve the problem. Middle East Eye and Catholic Online and Bloomberg

Eritrea: The most repressive regime in the world

Even worse than North Korea or Iran, the African state of Eritrea is considered by many to be the most repressive country in the world. And it is also second only to war-torn Syria as the leading country from which EU-bound migrants originate. In fact, all the corpses found during the night after the shipwreck off the coast of Lampedusa last week were Eritrean.

Eritrea has one of the poorest human rights records in the world. Anyone can be arrested and tortured at any time on the unsupported charge of criticizing someone in the government, or for attending the wrong religious institution. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has labeled it the “most censored” country in the world. (The next nine are: North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Azerbaijan, Vietnam, Iran, China, Burma, and Cuba.)

What is unique about Eritrea is the extent of military repression as practiced through a strictly-enforced conscription regimen and martial culture. Eritrea’s army is about 600,000 strong, which is one tenth of the population of about 6 million. Few countries anywhere, other than North Korea or the Cambodia of the Khmer Rouge, have one tenth of their population in the army. Some people are forced to serve in the armed forces until age 50.

Many people are forced to work at government jobs essentially as slaves. The average monthly salary is $12. If someone escapes to Europe as a migrant to earn money, the remittances that the migrant sends back to his family are heavily taxed by the state.

Like many African countries, Eritrea has a “youth bulge” in its population. Many of these young men and women are not satisfied with living in the most repressive nation in the world, and they’re willing to make any sacrifice or take any risk to reach Europe and a better life. Thursday’s EU meeting in Brussels will have no effect on that. Geopolitical Monitor and Telegraph and Guardian (Nov-2014) and Foreign Policy

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, India, Uttar Pradesh, Gajendra Singh, Narendra Modi, Land Acquisition, European Union, Italy, Mare Nostrum, Libya, Eritrea, North Korea, Iran
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