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 Secretary-General 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!