This is a terrible human crisis the World is facing today. Tens of thousands migrants are risking their lives by taking dangerous journeys across the Mediteranean to reach countries of the European Union. Migrants and asylum seekers have been crossing the Mediterranean seas for decades. The numbers have increased over the years due to a variety of factors, including conditions in countries of origin and transit, geopolitical development and EU policies. In 2015, over 220,000 migrants made the crossing up from 70,000 the previous year.
According to the UN refugee agency, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) 90,500 people crossed in the first 5 months of 2015. The principal route has long been from North Africa across the Central Mediterranean, but increasing numbers are now crossing the eastern Mediterranean from Turkey to the Greek islands. Thousands of women, children and men have died en route to Europe in 2015. Last week over 100 people drowned when a boat capsized on the Libyan Coast.
It is scandalous and unacceptable that it took so long and so many deaths for a wakeup call, including the sad sight of a three years old drowned child being washed away by the waves on the beach of Turkey last year.
It is clear to us that the broken politics of conflict weigh most heavily in forcing migration. The UN found recently that the majority of people arriving in Europe by sea were fleeing from war, conflict or persecution, half of them from Syria and Afghanistan. Yet, conflict is preventable. Critical questions must first be asked of international political leaders who are initiating or prolonging these conflicts, but are unable or unwilling to take responsibilities for their humanitarian consequence.
Secondly, funding is important to meet the day to day needs of those who have fled. In the short term, this means aid for those desperately underfunded refugee programs. Only 32% of total funding to the Syrian crisis has been met, for instance. In the long term it crucially means investing in lasting developments that tackles the root of conflict, inequality, poverty and climate change, rather than building more fences and walls.
Balance is integral as poorer countries are currently bearing the brunt by hosting 86% of the world’s refugees. This puts Europe’s dilemmas into sharp context. Europe’s infrastructure is not at risk of falling apart because 350,000 people have sought haven there last year. They represent only around one half of one per cent of the EU population of 500 million.
While Europe squabbled over the resettlement of 20,000 refugees in 2015, Turkey single- handedly was hosting well over one and a half million. In Lebanon a quarter of the population are now refugees, taking the country’s infrastructure and socio-economic fabric to breaking point. This is why Oxfam, an International Refugees Organisation is calling for a commitment from rich countries to offer international protection to just 5% of Syrian refugees – approximately 200,000 people.
EU migration policy must place saving lives and protecting people as its first priority regardless of where they have come from and why. The warnings of the potential consequences of closing the Mare Nostrum program initially went unheeded, after an estimated 800 people drowned in April 2015. The EU reacted by tripling its resources in the Mediterranean and more than 50,000 lives have since been saved as a result.
This underlines the effectiveness and need for such operations. We believe that Europe has a responsibility to ensure that the basic humanitarian needs of migrants including refugees are met and their rights respected.
Something terrible is happening when political leaders and the media are able to drip disdain on unspeakable human suffering. At Oxfam, all human lives are of equal value and full of potential. A human life crossing the Mediterranean or through the Balkans carries no less value than a human life does in the wake of an earthquake or war.
It is time for solidarity with migrants. As human beings, we should appeal to civil society and all other charity organisations everywhere to join in the humanising the voices of migrants around the world and restore our collective humanity at all levels of society. In Mauritius, certain private Welfare Charity Organisations, we are told, have joined Oxfam, the International Charity Organisation to help the migrants by way of financial funding.