On a visit to Barcelona, a colleague of mine from Lagos Business School casually met another Nigerian in the street. After chatting for a few minutes, her new friend asked in surprise: “… did you come here by plane?” The anecdote might sound funny but the reality it reflects is anything but. He was surprised because a vast number of Africans in Europe arrived by rickety boat brought by people-smugglers. Disturbingly, I find that the process of people-smuggling has parallels with modern slavery.
I’m particularly sensitive to the issue these days. Last week, I traveled to Sao Paulo with a group of students from IESE‘s GEMBA program where I visited the Afro-Brazilian Museum. Traces of slavery were patent there – traces not that different from today’s people-smuggling “business” – even if not exactly the same. For instance some paintings portrayed the slaves as anonymous, soulless. Concealing individuality was one way to deprive slaves of their human dignity – and indirectly, this was used to justify the trade.
Look at the data reported by the Financial Times (original source: the International Organization for Migration):
- 1,727 migrants dead in the Mediterranean so far in 2015;
- the death rate has increased from 0.2 % (Jan-Apr 2014) to 7.5 % (Jan-Apr 2015);
- 170,100 migrants reached Italy in 2014, four times more than in 2013.
This suggests that cutting rescue budgets (as the EU did last year) doesn’t discourage migrants from taking risks with people smugglers. While EU officials try to devise appropriate solutions, the rest of us cannot remain blind to the reality.
So, what can we do? At the company level, one very basic thing is not take advantage of such desperate situations. On the contrary, let’s start thinking of projects with the potential to enhance Africa’s socioeconomic development (and that of other emerging regions) so that its people may find conditions for a dignified life there.
Meanwhile, and on an individual level, this comes to mind: when you see someone who looks like an immigrant, look them in the eye and smile at them wholeheartedly. This is one simple way to recognize them as unique human beings. And you’ll see a sign of appreciation in their face that will stay with you for quite a while.
Any other suggestions?