Half the world’s refugees come from just three countries: Syria (4.9 million), Afghanistan (2.7 million) and Somalia (1.1 million).
In 2016, 363,348 people arrived at one or another Mediterranean port, roughly a third being children, 90% of whom were unaccompanied. Most people cross the sea to Italy or Greece, departing from Libya, of whom 5,078 are estimated to have drowned making the 300-mile crossing during 2016 alone.
It’s worth noting that the overwhelming majority of people fleeing violence, 90%, are not crowding the cities of industrialised nations. They are in refugee camps in poor countries close to their own, living uncomfortable lives of uncertainty and misery.
Most people don’t leave their homeland because they want too. They move because either their town or city is a war zone; they are being persecuted and are in danger; or they cannot find work to support themselves. Given the same circumstances wouldn’t we do the same? It constitutes the greatest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War yet instead of compassion, understanding and unity, all too often the response is intolerance, ignorance and suspicion.
In countries throughout the world migrants have become the scapegoat for all manner of social-economic ills. Often publicly vilified and treated like criminals, herded into holding camps, processing units and detention centres – which in many cases are worse than prison.
‘Migrant’ in some bigoted quarters has become a dirty word, synonymous with criminality and extremism. Described as a potential threat to ‘national security’ or as ‘Islamic terrorists’ by those on the very fringes of sanity – flag-waving fanatics who call themselves politicians, but employ the rhetoric of prejudice and fear to inflame hatreds that should have been jettisoned in favour of mutual understanding and universal brotherhood decades ago.
Migrants are not criminals. They are human beings trying to survive in a hostile, unjust world: A world in which violent conflicts – that lead to the mass movement of people – are engineered by the powerful to sustain an insatiable arms industry (worth $1.7 trillion or 3% of global GDP) and maintain geo-political control. A world based on wrong conclusions, where the commercialisation of all areas of life has lead to the commodification of everything, including persons – including children. In this world of money and fear the most vulnerable are traded and sold; vulnerability grows out of poverty, and allows for exploitation: there are few human beings more vulnerable and defenceless than migrants, particularly migrant children.
Since the ill-judged US-led assault on Libya in 2011, the country has become a chaotic dysfunctional state racked with terrorism, political instability and crime. In this lawless land Human Rights Watch (HRW) records that hundreds of thousands of innocent migrants (including children), experience torture, sexual assault and forced labour at the hands of “prison guards, members of the Coast Guard forces and smugglers.” Recent investigations by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) found that migrants in Libya are being openly bought and sold as slaves by Libyans; young men from poor families, mainly from Nigeria, Ghana, Gambia and Senegal, are targeted. They pay traffickers hundreds of US$ to get them to Libya, and once they arrive, IOM reports, they are handed over to smugglers for sale. In other cases migrant boys/men are kidnapped, held for ransom and then auctioned off to the highest bidder. Women and girls are “bought by private [Libyan] individuals and brought to homes where they were [are] forced to be sex slaves.” It’s thought that up to 800,000 migrants are currently congregated in Libya.
When those who survive the horrors of Libya make it to Europe, the nightmare for some is far from over. Save the Children reports that thousands of migrants are trafficked in Europe every year; the majority are women/girls, mainly from Nigeria and Romania, who are forced into prostitution, “made to rent sidewalk space to sell sex, ”amid voodoo rituals and violent threats against their families back home. Some are as young as 13. Boys are also victims: “social networking sites like Facebook” are used “to lure boys with the promise of a better life.” The reality is slave labour in Rome or Milan. As the number of unaccompanied children arriving on Europe’s shores doubles year on year, the risks of exploitation and human suffering increase. Europol believes as many as 10,000 “unaccompanied child refugees have gone missing after arriving in Europe.”
Displaced people (refugees or economic migrants) sitting in a refugee camp or sheltering in an abandoned building, waiting to hear the result of an asylum application or in transit somewhere in the world, are victims of circumstance. They are not the ones orchestrating or carrying out the violent conflicts around the world, nor are they responsible for the economic conditions in their native countries. They are victims of a divided world, fragmented by religion, ethnicity, ideology and economics; and with the intensification of these causes the effects increase – displacement of people is one such effect.
The solutions to this major crisis, and indeed many of our problems, would naturally flow from the recognition of the fact that we are brothers and sisters of one humanity. In such an understanding, hostile divisions based on nationalism and ethnicity begin to fade, whilst the diversity of differing views and cultural traditions enriches and adds to the tapestry of society.
Abrideged and adpted from here