Today, the world is witnessing the greatest refugee crisis since WW2. War, persecution and poverty are rife, causing people to flee from Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Migrants sacrifice everything to make arduous journeys in the hope of seeking refuge in a “civilised” Europe. They might have paid their live savings and left their families behind. They might be shot by the people smugglers who have promised them a safe and comfortable crossing. They might endure hours without food and water. When their boat capsizes they might fall into the Mediterranean blue they have dreamed for days of crossing. But, they might be rescued, pulled to safety, fed and given a place to sleep for the night.
Britain’s latest stance on migrants in the Mediterranean will ensure that the latter does not happen. Instead, people will drown.
After the Lampedusa tragedies in which 500 migrants died, Italy set up the Mare Nostrum programme, which, for the past 12 months, has carried out search and rescue operations of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. This year, 150,000 migrants have been rescued directly from the waters or unseaworthy vessels. 2500 migrants are known to have drowned.
As Italy buckles under the weight of what is a European issue, rather than an exclusively Italian one, the country has had to put an end to the programme. Its replacement, Triton, combines 28 EU member countries but will provide just 1/3 of the resources that Italy did. Notably, no search and rescue operations will be carried out across the Mediterranean; the search area will be limited to just 30 miles off the Italian coast.
“This year, 150,000 migrants have been rescued directly from the waters or unseaworthy vessels. 2500 migrants are known to have drowned.”
Protecting human rights was a founding principle of the EU and this new “border protection” programme goes against Europe’s humanitarian duty and legal obligations.
The UK has sunk even lower in the immoral bog by saying that it will not contribute to search and rescue operations and it will contribute just one member of staff to the programme.
The reason for this? Supposedly the more migrants that are rescued, the more they will be encouraged to come to Europe. Foreign minister Lady Annelay labelled rescues as the “pull-factor” and said that they would lead to more deaths in the long run, as more people would be encouraged to make the crossing knowing there was some form of safety net in place.
Not pulling men, women and children out of the sea, sacrificing some migrants so that others “learn” is simply putting a value on the number of lives saved right now compared to those saved in the long run. In Annelay’s views, this is much more humane. I am more than doubtful of this – I am ashamed to call myself British.
“In Annelay’s views, this is much more humane. I am more than doubtful of this – I am ashamed to call myself British.”
Even if we entertain the government’s view on this it is doubtful that lives would be saved in the long run by eliminating this “pull-factor”.
If you are threatened with death in your own country because you are of a certain religion, you will board the boat. If you are being persecuted because of your sexual orientation, you will board the boat. If you are searching for work because your children are dying from hunger, you will board the boat. If your town and house are bombed leaving you with nothing, you will board the boat. If you have even the slightest chance of survival as a result of boarding the boat – you will board the boat.
Thus, rescue or no rescue, it’s hard to believe that we will see the number of migrants crossing decrease. It is however certain that Europe – and notably Britain’s – lack of humanity will help the death toll to climb, adding unnecessarily to the 20,250 migrants who have died at sea since 1988.
There are arguments that Europe and especially Italy cannot cope with the high number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean. This may be true in some cases, and the British government’s desire to focus on countries of origin by curtailing the supply of vessels leaving from North Africa and targeting people smugglers is a sensible suggestion.
Maurice Wren, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council has called for more safe and legal channels into Europe for migrants, the lack of which aggravates problems such as the one we are now dealing with.
“If you have even the slightest chance of survival as a result of boarding the boat – you will board the boat.”
However all of these policies require time and Britain has not set out a clear plan in which it will tackle these issues. These solutions deal with the long-term, but the long-term does not address the issue of people drowning right now.
So, as it stands, Britain and its people – us – who are responsible in some way for the actions of our democratically elected government, will let fellow human beings be welcomed by the sea, fatigue, asphyxiation and finally death, rather giving them a chance of making a way of life they have the right to.
We are living in an increasingly polarised society, a time of moral decline. We must push through this, and using our rights as citizens, rights which those in need do not have, remind each other and our leaders that we are all human and that we all deserve to live.
Image by Alixandra Fazzina courtesy of Noor/Redux