Thursday, 30 April 2015

Mediterranean Migrant Crisis: Don't Let Them Drown

Amnesty International picture

 This month, more than 1,000 women, men and children drowned in one week as several overcrowded boats sank in the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas.
It is the equivalent of five passenger planes full of people.  If they had been holiday makers, instead of migrants, imagine the response. 

And that might be just a start. In previous years, the warmer weather has marked the start of ‘boat season’ – when thousands of desperate people embark on the treacherous journey to Europe. Even before the tragic events this month, 50 times as many people died since the beginning of 2015, compared to the same period last year. And even more people are expected to attempt this dangerous trip this summer, particularly as the violence persists in Libya, to where many Syrians escaping the conflict have fled.
Women, men and children leave their homes, risking death, exploitation and starvation along the way, to board over-crowded, unseaworthy and often crewless boats, having paid all they have or can borrow to people smugglers.
Many die. Many lose their loved ones or become separated from them.

Here is Kate Allen, 
Amnesty International UK director's account of her visit to Lampedusa: 
"I’ve just returned from meeting with shipwreck survivors, coastguards and officials in Lampedusa – the Italian island on the frontline of the crisis in the Mediterranean Sea.

It was incredibly harrowing but, as always, I was truly touched by the bravery of those I met.

People like the 19-year-old woman who told me that her mother was killed while they were trying to escape Boko Haram.

She then met a man who took her to Libya and prostituted her. She told me how she had to run for her life to get away from him, and about the discrimination and violence directed at black Africans in Libya.

I spent one morning with the head of the local hospital, who told me that he and his small team examine all arrivals, dead and alive. He talked about his experiences, from joyful reunions between mothers and their children, to examining a young girl in a body bag to find she was actually still alive and managing to resuscitate her. She now lives in Sweden.

He had many, many heart-wrenching stories and I struggled not to cry.

On the ground, amongst the people who are actually helping, I didn’t hear a bad word directed at the migrants and refugees. Their resentment is against the international community.

Speaking to the mayor of Lampedusa, she told me: ‘We can’t condemn people to die because they are black. We don’t let people drown.’

The number of people making this journey really isn’t huge – as long as the rest of Europe would only play its part."

At the recent emergency summit in Brussels, EU leaders pledged to triple funding for rescue operations in the Mediterranean. The EU will also look at ways to capture and destroy smugglers' boats and deploy immigration officers to non-EU countries, officials said. But Amnesty International says  they have not gone far enough and urge the UK government and its European Union partners to strengthen search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean and the Aegean seas through a joint effort involving all EU countries here. You can sign their petition here

But even if naval operations manage to rescue the vast majority, there are bitter disputes about how to deal with the tens of thousands who make it to safety. Britain, for example, has said it will provide significant naval support, but it won't accept more asylum seekers. 

Some people in southern Europe say that's not enough. The burden has to be more equitably shared. There should be a common asylum and immigration policy within the EU. But as different countries have very different priorities, it  will take years to get the balance right and achieve a common policy. 

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