A young woman and her child have crossed all the way from Syria to Italy for thousands of miles - with the help of human traffickers - which has taken months for her to pay for, in dusty, dingy streets in the overbearing heat without much food and water. She is waiting in Libya to cross the Mediterranean in a rusty boat commandeered by a criminal wanting to make some quick money out of the growing refugee crisis across the Middle East and Africa.
The young mother arrives at the port carrying all her possessions in a ripped plastic bag and her child wrapped on her front with a piece of cloth. She is shuffled onto the boat with many other people from Eritrea and Iraq looking dishevelled and tired due to the months of travelling just to get there. They are placed below the deck with no food, water and life jackets as the boat travels off into the darkness. In return for this plight, the human traffickers can earn thousands with just one single journey of a nervous mother and her child. It is now known as a profitable business, which could be argued now carries the same immoral connotations as arms sales after recent disasters.
The boat arrives with the passengers’ starving, dehydrated and the stench of human excrement in the solitary room in which all the possible refugees’ were held. This family has arrived on a continent that does not want them to be there, and would rather they quietly returned to their country of origin.
After all the pomp and platitudes of the general election showing how parochial and petty our politicians are and with no mention of foreign policy and how they will try and fix the migration crisis facing Europe and the West, there is a growing migration and refugee crisis heading towards our continent on those same rusty old boats.
The reasons for this crisis could have been seen from a mile off; caused by the same causes as most of the difficulties in the world. Firstly, there is war, there are civil wars in the Middle East, such as the Syrian civil war causing three million to exit the country to other states like Iraq and mostly Lebanon. The other problem is persecution caused by Assad, ISIS, Boko Haram and al-Shabaab, which has meant the religious minorities are forced to flee. For example, Christians have left because they are now in serious danger of being killed in Iraq due to ISIS.
Another factor leading to mass migration is poverty and economic crisis in these regions. In Somalia, which can now be considered a failed state, there is crippling poverty with, according to Humanium (a child sponsorship NGO), 60% of the population beneath the poverty line, meaning many Somalis want to cross Europe for economic benefits. However, they also face persecution under the war lords, who control the country on largely tribal lines.
So what are the British and the EU thinking of doing about this situation across the sea dividing us all from Africa and the gateway to the Middle East?
The Conservative majority government has reacted with Theresa May, the Home Secretary, saying that she does not want Britain to follow EU policy in taking some of the migrants to Britain. The MP for Maidenhead said in the Daily Mail about Britain’s stance towards the refugees:
Often, the issue is perceived as being people who are refugees from Syria. Those coming across the Med – they are coming from countries such as Senegal, Eritrea, Sudan. Many will have paid organised crime groups to get them through. It is a different sort of issue from Syrian refugees. If we are really going to stop the people putting their lives in danger by crossing the Med, we need to stop them starting their journey in the first place.
This statement shows the conflict between economic migrants and refugees. One could argue that since the rise of UKIP, Britain has become more xenophobic towards refugees and immigration overall because of benefit tourism and the fact that migrants can take jobs in coastal towns from the general British population. However, this should not be a reason to refuse to take a few hundred refugees from Syria or Senegal, whatever reason they have arrived here, as part of Britain being humanitarian and moral, instead of watching as potentially thousands drown on our doorstep in the Mediterranean this summer.
The EU policy of housing the migrants all over the EU is a valid idea. But, the Conservatives, blinded by one of their prominent policies for this parliament of renegotiating with the EU and having a referendum on membership will try and do anything not to conform to EU decrees from the European Commission and Jean-Claude Juncker.
Admittedly, EU policy is not perfect, with more refugees being sent to Member States whose economies are strongest. The belief is that since the economies are growing, the state will will be able to take care of the refugees better, but the consequence is that Britain and Germany will be taking more than France and Italy, where the economies are in stagnation.
What should be done to stop the trafficking?
In order to stem the flow of migrants from places like Lusaka and Tripoli, the EU are trying to get clearance from the UN Security Council to allow missile strikes on the human traffickers’ boats. But, this is fraught with danger as there is a large possibility of innocent civilians being killed by the collateral damage of the strikes. Also, the UN Security Council is notoriously difficult to get a clear resolution sanctioned because of the conflict of interest of states like Britain and France that are being heavily relied on to take refugees of any kind for asylum. Therefore, there is no guarantee the resolution will be passed and the crisis will just continue.
There should be a global solution to the migrant issue as the same problems are affecting Australia and the USA, the latter facing crossings from Mexico. This would involve the EU, USA and the UN making a functional policy not based on self-interest. Furthermore, in order to stem the flow the governments should try and help bring governance to Somalia and Libya since France and Britain left a power vacuum after the death of Colonel Gaddafi in 2012. That having been said, this policy would need intervention, seen as a dirty word in Britain and with the Obama administration.
The poverty and civil wars will not end in the short term, meaning the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean will continue until the EU, USA and the UN make a concerted effort to intervene in order to secure good governance and stable economies in the states causing the difficulty. This will not save the many who have already died trying to cross to a possible better future but we must act to help those who still dream of reaching our shores.