Man’s In­hu­man­ity to Man

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Michael Walker

Maybe it’s time for the peo­ple of the Caribbean to step up and play a role in al­le­vi­at­ing the refugee cri­sis caused by the tidal wave of brethren flee­ing Africa, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

On 28 Au­gust, 2015 The United Na­tions refugee agency an­nounced that the num­ber of refugees and mi­grants cross­ing the Mediter­ranean to reach Europe sur­passed 300,000 in the first seven months of 2015, up from 219,000 dur­ing the whole of 2014. An ad­di­tional 2,500 refugees have al­ready died this year while at­tempt­ing the cross­ing to Europe. Al­most 200,000 peo­ple have landed in cash-strapped Greece and an ad­di­tional 110,000 in Italy, another coun­try whose econ­omy is strug­gling.

Ac­cord­ing to The Economist, “the make-up of the flows has changed over the years. Mi­grants cur­rently come mainly from West Africa, the Horn of Africa and, since 2013, Syria … So far this year the flow to Italy is dom­i­nated by mi­grants from the Gam­bia, Sene­gal and So­ma­lia. There are routes through the Sa­hara from both West Africa and the Horn of Africa. For many of the com­mu­ni­ties along the way the traf­fic in would-be mi­grants is now a dom­i­nant part of the lo­cal econ­omy.”

200 years af­ter the abo­li­tion of slav­ery, peo­ple are flee­ing the re­gion in search of a bet­ter life, al­beit in quite a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion. One can only spec­u­late on the so­cial, spir­i­tual, eco­nomic, po­lit­i­cal, and moral chal­lenges that are driv­ing des­per­ate men, women and chil­dren to un­der­take the ar­du­ous and dan­ger­ous trek across the Sa­hara to­wards a pos­si­ble drown­ing in the Mediter­ranean Sea. I say chil­dren be­cause the latest trend is for par­ent­less chil­dren un­der the age of 15 to be dumped to fend for them­selves by ruth­less peo­ple-smug­glers in Scan­di­na­vian towns. In late Au­gust a small town in Swe­den dis­cov­ered one morn­ing over 200 aban­doned refugee chil­dren wan­der­ing its streets.

In­ter­na­tional Law stip­u­lates the right of refugees to pro­tec­tion and asy­lum. When con­sid­er­ing asy­lum re­quests, States can­not make dis­tinc­tions based on re­li­gion or other iden­tity, nor can they force peo­ple to re­turn to places from which they have fled if there is a well-founded fear of per­se­cu­tion or at­tack. UN Chief Ban has ex­plained that “the high num­ber of refugees and mi­grants are a symp­tom of deeper prob­lems – end­less con­flict, grave vi­o­la­tions of hu­man rights, tan­gi­ble gov­er­nance fail­ures and harsh re­pres­sion.”

Ban went on to say that the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity must also show greater de­ter­mi­na­tion in re­solv­ing con­flicts and other prob­lems that leave peo­ple lit­tle choice but to flee. Fail­ing that, the num­bers of those dis­placed – more than 40,000 per day – will only rise. How these con­flicts would be re­solved, the UN Chief did not say. In typ­i­cal UN-non­sense-speak, the Sec­re­taryGen­eral de­clared, “It is a cri­sis of sol­i­dar­ity, not a cri­sis of num­bers.” Of course it’s the num­bers – Stupid! One so­lu­tion that will never be con­sid­ered is a global re­set­tle­ment pro­gramme in which the ‘free’ coun­tries of the world agree to ac­cept a quota of refugees each year – a sort of mu­si­cal chairs – leav­ing vast tracts of empti­ness over which dic­ta­tors and re­li­gious fa­nat­ics could rule un­op­posed.

The Economist again: “Ac­cord­ing to UNHCR, the Libyan Coast Guard car­ried out two res­cue oper­a­tions on Thurs­day morn­ing, seven miles off the port town of Zwara. Two boats car­ry­ing ap­prox­i­mately 500 refugees and mi­grants were in­ter­cepted and sur­vivors taken to shore. With an es­ti­mated 200 peo­ple still miss­ing – and feared dead – a still un­de­ter­mined num­ber of bod­ies were re­cov­ered.

“On Wed­nes­day, a rub­ber dinghy car­ry­ing some 145 refugees and mi­grants ran into trou­ble when the op­er­a­tor tilted the skiff dan­ger­ously to one side. Panic fol­lowed as some peo­ple fell into the sea and three women on the dinghy were crushed to death. Of those who fell into the wa­ter, 18 re­main miss­ing and are be­lieved to have drowned. That same day res­cuers aid­ing a boat off the Libyan coast found 51 peo­ple suf­fo­cated to death in the cargo hold. Ac­cord­ing to sur­vivors, smug­glers were charg­ing peo­ple money for al­low­ing them to come out in or­der to breathe.

“Last week, in a sim­i­lar in­ci­dent, the bod­ies of 49 per­sons were found in the hold of another boat. They are thought to have died af­ter in­hal­ing poi­sonous fumes.”

History re­peats it­self, or so they say. The re­spect for life and hu­man dig­nity is as lack­ing to­day in many parts of Africa as it was more than two cen­turies ago. The African traders who sold slaves to the cap­tains of ships bound for the Caribbean are still ac­tive, it seems. The dif­fer­ence now is that they per­suade their vic­tims to pay for the du­bi­ous risk of be­ing smug­gled into Europe in search of a bet­ter life. Come on, Caribbean! Surely you could open your arms each year to a thou­sand or so of your suf­fer­ing, flee­ing brethren – the ones that got left be­hind!

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