Europe’s migrant crisis: Boy in a suitcase smuggled into Spain

An 8-year-old African boy was found in a suitcase being smuggled into Spain. This is the latest indicator of Africa and Europe's growing migrant crisis.

An 8-year-old boy is seen cramped inside a suitcase on a Spanish civil guard border security check point between Morocco and Spain's north african enclave Ceuta, Spain in this handout photo released May 8, 2015. A woman was arrested May 7, 2015 for the attempted smuggling of the boy, who was checked by medics and handed over to juvenile prosecutors office, according to authorities. Picture taken May 7, 2015. Eyes masked at source.

In a smuggling attempt undone, an 8-year-old boy from the Ivory Coast spent hours curled up inside a suitcase before Spanish authorities discovered him Thursday.

Officials suspect that the boy’s father, Abou, paid a young woman to cross into Spain via Morocco with the child, Spanish newspaper El Pais reported. Abou lives in the Canary Islands, a Spanish territory, and had hoped to reunite with his son. He and the woman have since been sent to a preventive prison on charges of violating the rights of foreign citizens and putting a child’s life at risk.

The incident is the latest symbol of Europe’s increasingly urgent migrant crisis, as thousands of families from Africa and the Middle East risk their lives over land and sea to flee violence, oppressive regimes, and poverty at home. Abou’s desperate attempt also draws attention to the debate around solutions, as European Union leaders struggle to determine the best approach to stem the migrant tide.

As of this month, nearly 63,500 migrants have arrived in Europe, most of them from Syria, Eritrea, Somalia, Nigeria, and Afghanistan, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Nearly 2,000 have died in the journey – more than four times the number of fatalities from the same period last year.

“This is unacceptable,” Federico Soda, director of the IOM Coordination Office for the Mediterranean, said in April, when migrant deaths by sea peaked to more than 1,200. “This is a humanitarian emergency that involves us all.”

The surge in migrant fatalities has led the EU to both beef up resources for its search-and-rescue operation “Triton,” which launched a little over six months ago, and to consider dealing with the problem at its source.

At an emergency summit in Brussels last month, EU leaders decided to triple its Mediterranean search mission, with member states pledging aircraft and boats to aid in operations, according to Reuters.  

They also announced plans to take military action against smuggling networks in Libya, “where people smugglers operate with impunity amid the country's civil chaos,” The Christian Science Monitor’s Sara Miller Llana reported. Member states would focus on efforts to trace smugglers’ sources of funding, and to capture and destroy smuggling vessels in the Mediterranean.

Critics, however, noted that the plan lacked attention to migrants’ plights in their home countries.

“There is no military solution to the human tragedy playing out in the Mediterranean,” United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon reportedly told Italian newspaper La Stampa. “It is crucial that we take a holistic approach that looks at the root causes, at security and the human rights of migrants and refugees, and have legal and regulated immigration networks.”

Such an approach would involve an overhaul of the EU’s present asylum system, in which some countries take on a far larger share than others of incoming refugees and asylum-seekers – a situation that exacerbates tensions within those countries as locals perceive a clash between their own interests and the influx of migrants into their communities.

“The European asylum system doesn’t work,” Germany’s immigration commissioner, Aydan Özoguz, who has received death threats for her advocacy of refugee rights, told The Washington Post. “Some countries are doing very little. We are one of the richest countries and we want to help, but it’s not okay that Germany, Sweden and France are taking 50 percent of the refugees while other countries do nothing.”

The problem is that asylum systems in many European countries operate below international standards, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). And although nearly half of 48 countries in the region participate to some degree in the UNHCR’s resettlement efforts, “the number of resettlement places in the region remains limited, with quotas and reception and integration capacity varying widely,” the agency reported.  

Some experts argue that giving migrants more and better paths to legal European citizenship is the best way to go. In an interview with The Guardian, François Crépeau, the UN’s special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, urged western countries to coordinate efforts to resettle refugees and advocated for acceptance instead of fear of the changes that migrants bring.

“It’s a much better system for everyone – you reduce the number of deaths, you reduce the smuggling business model, and you reduce the cost of asylum claims,” he told The Guardian. “Let’s not be afraid of mobility. If we develop, regulate, organize mobility we will have, in the long run, much better results.”

Mr. Crépeau’s stance is in line with the UN’s as well as other organizations, such as Medicins San Frontieres, calling for solutions that place human rights at the forefront.

As Quartz put it: “What demands a response is not just the smuggling itself, but the conditions that would lead a parent to have his child stuffed in a suitcase, for a dangerous crossing to a place far from home.”

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