Death in the Mediterranean

you have to understand
no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land.

-warsan shire

Nearly 2,000 people have drowned this year trying to get to Europe from the Middle East and Africa. Last weekend, an estimated 800 migrants trying to reach Europe drowned after their boat capsized off the Libyan coast. These desperate people are part of the largest mass migration since World War II. 

Worldwide, the number of people forcibly displaced by conflict or persecution reached 51.2 million in 2014. A large number of those escaping across the Mediterranean come from Syria and Somalia  — which, along with Afghanistan, produce more than half of all refugees worldwide —as well as Eritrea. 

Each day, would-be migrants depart from Libya, with most heading for the Italian island of Lampedusa, the EU territory closest to Libya. They are packed into cramped rubber rafts and fishing boats where they spend hours or days hoping to be rescued before they sink. On the boats, migrants are often deprived of food and water and risk being thrown overboard if they get seasick.

For this perilous journey, human traffickers charge desperate migrants up to £1,300 each.

In a recent emergency conference, European leaders pledged to address the migrant crisis, however, proposals fall short of a serious confrontation of the ethical and human rights considerations at hand. While committing to sharply expanding maritime patrols in the Mediterranean and cracking down on traffickers, European leaders must consider strategies beyond repression and detention. 

For the Syrians, Libyans, Somalis and Eritreans who comprise the majority of this migrant flow to central Europe, we should do what the world did for the Indochinese in the 1970s. We should issue a comprehensive plan for action. As the communist governments of Indochina fell, global powers assembled to offer refugees the opportunity to resettle with the possibility of future repatriation. In the United States, approximately 130,000 refugees from South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were allowed to enter the country under the Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act. Across Europe, several other nations implemented similar legislation. Why not consider a similar plan for these refugees due to the sheer magnitude of their exodus? 

For those with mixed motivations for migration (e.g. migrants from other North and Western African nations), instead of bowing to the nationalist rhetoric of many European political parties, it may be time to acknowledge the need for the reform of the immigration system to accommodate migrants at all skill levels. 

Globalization cannot only focus on the movement of goods and ideas. We must develop better strategies to regulate the movement of people too.

This model, supported by François Crépeau, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, offers the hope of a better life for people who have lived in nothing but chaos for the past few years. By creating such an action plan, Europe can reduce the number of deaths and, in turn, reduce the smuggling business model. 

Considering the role that Western foreign policy has played in the destabilization of countries such as Syria and Libya, we have a moral imperative to develop strategies to cope with the political issues themselves as well as their related effects on the quality of human life.