Recently, in a single week no fewer than 880 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean. Taking rickety boats as seaworthy as my Fiat Punto miles across the freezing Med, these desperate men, women and children are playing Russian roulette with their lives for the chance of getting to the shores of the EU, and the sanctuary and opportunity they offer.
Naturally this tragedy has elicited frenzied responses from both left and right, which serve to say more about those making the comments than they do of the realities of this crisis. The right has begun foaming at the mouth about illegal immigration, seemingly blind to the human costs involved, whilst the left continues to express extreme sadness at the deaths, yet still opposing measures to tackle the problems at source.
This crisis has come about as the result of a complex set of circumstances, which have fed into each other and continues to drive parts of the world closer to the brink. However, for some reason, we don’t seem to be able to see past the end point – the poor souls losing their lives in the Med.
These migrants are not all from the same place, are not fleeing for the same reasons, and will not be helped either by the one-size-fits-all approach being espoused by many European Governments, nor by the hand-wringing and simpering and ‘solidarity’ of the faceless legions on social media. We need to stop using this crisis as a soapbox issue we can all massage our egos with by paying lip service to kind ideas without acting on them. We also need to stop treating just the symptoms whilst failing to tackle, and in some cases actually exacerbating, the root causes of the disease.
The first group of migrants are perhaps those most people are aware of, those fleeing from Bashar al Assad’s murderous regime, along with his Russian and Iranian allies in Syria. Those on Assad’s side are still carrying out airstrikes on residential neighbourhoods and hospitals. They are still using illegal barrel bombs, banned Sarin nerve gas and other chemical agents. The Syrian Arab Army has all but fractured into sectarian militias, much as Iraq’s army did under Prime Minister Maliki.
The second group are fleeing not only from Iraq and Syria, but from further afield places like Libya, Somalia, Pakistan, Iran, and Nigeria. These are the victims of religious discrimination and persecution, who have suffered greatly at the hands of the Islamic State, al Qaeda and its affiliates, the Iranian and Pakistani governments, and other Islamist extremist groups, which are perpetrating acts of genocide, ethnic cleansing, and extreme barbarity in the service of their twisted ideology.
Thirdly are economic migrants from places like the Balkans and Albania, where the levels of unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, are staggering. In some places more than half of young people aged 16-24 are unemployed. Rather than accepting their lot in life as impoverished, unemployed and miserable, these people are following the money and the jobs and are looking to support themselves and their family by earning an honest day’s wage for a hard day’s work.
It is clear that we should welcome with open arms those fleeing persecution, but it is not a sustainable solution to keep taking more and more refugees and migrants and keeping them indefinitely.
Governments alone cannot solve this crisis, it will involve hard work from charities, NGOs, think tanks, companies, and well-informed, public spirited citizens.
Let’s stop stating the obvious, that it’s a sad situation.
It’s not enough just to say we would like to see these people back home where they belong, safe with their families, living in societies of peace, prosperity, opportunity and diversity. Let’s start having a conversation about how we can help make that hope a reality.
The world’s persecuted and poor can’t eat our prayers, they can’t use our kind thoughts as gas masks and our solidarity won’t keep their families safe any more than the freezing embrace of the Mediterranean Sea.