Friday, August 07, 2015

When we turn our backs

The deaths of hundreds of drowning people off the shores of Europe no longer make headline news. Dramatic film footage and photographs are seldom used to highlight the tragedy.  Refugee deaths is down-played by the media because they reveal a truth - immigrant are human beings, just like you and me. 2,100 persons are reported to have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean Sea this year alone.

“It was a horrific sight, people desperately clinging to lifebelts, boats and anything they could to fight for their lives, amidst people drowning, and those who had already died,” said Juan Matías, Médecins Sans Frontières, the international medical aid charity, project coordinator.“The fact that we were first called to assist this boat and then shortly afterwards sent to another one highlights the severe lack of resources available for rescue operations.” 

In Sicily, Palermo's mayor was amongst crowds gathered in the Sicilian port to watch the arrival of hundreds of survivors from the latest boat tragedy in the Mediterranean. Leoluca Orlando puts the blame for the tragedy and all others in the Mediterranean squarely on the shoulders of the European governments failing to provide safe passage for the people fleeing war and persecution to reach their shores. “In the future, the European Union will be held responsible for this genocide, exactly like we held Nazi fascism responsible for genocide 70 years ago,” he said as the undertakers prepared to remove bodies “From Palermo comes a message - you should be ashamed… It's not possible to stop human mobility in the world and if you try to stop it with violence, we are responsible for genocide. Each form of prohibition produces violence and organised crime… I think Britain is as responsible as other European countries for this genocide and when history records it, I wish to be able to say I was not complicit.” Mr Orlando said some of the families he had met had paid up to $4,000 for journeys of suffering and death. “For that they could have brought a plane ticket to Hamburg, to Rome,” he added. “But we force all of them to live in this illegal condition, to go through Libya and risk their lives in the sea.” 

"It is unacceptable that in the 21st century people fleeing from conflict, persecutions, misery and land degradation must endure such terrible experiences in their home countries, not to mention en route, and then die on Europe's doorstep," General William Lacy Swing, the Director of the International Organisation of Migration (IOM), said in a statement. 

“In order to deal with this situation, Europe should open more legal ways for refugees to come," William Spindler, senior spokesperson of the UNHCR, told Al Jazeera. "The UNHCR is urging European countries to provide more places for refugees through resettlement programmes, family reunification, humanitarian admission, private sponsorship schemes, and work and education visas." He continued, "Despite the increase in sea arrivals to Europe this year, European countries receive a relatively small share of refugees compared to other regions. Worldwide, 86 per cent of the refugees under UNHCR’s mandate live in developing countries." The world’s top refugee host was Turkey, followed by Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Ethiopia and Jordan.

In Calais, Maya Konforti of L'Auberge des Migrants, a local migrant charity explained that those demonized by the media had " left conditions in the country that were a situation of life and death ... they risk their lives many times, and they arrive here ... and they have difficulty understanding they are in France, living in a jungle with living conditions that are below international refugee camp standards." She added, "We also need to stop being afraid of what is happening. This is not an invasion."

The main nationalities of sea arrivals this year in Europe are Syrians (38 percent), Eritreans (12 percent), Afghans (11 percent), Nigerians (5 percent) and Somalis (4 percent), the UNHCR said, underpinning what humanitarians have repeatedly said about most arrivals being victims of war, conflict and oppression.

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