EU Response to Refugee Crisis

Whenever I watch the news, I always seem to start yelling at the tv (I do this with hockey too) (this is why I read the news instead of watch it). The story that got me yelling? The recently announced decision by the European Union to start targeting (and then destroying) the boats of smugglers who are ferrying refugees from northern Africa to Europe.

Think about that for a second – the EU is deciding to spend time and effort in creating a military naval mission that will destroy the vessels that desperate people are using to flee to a better life INSTEAD OF spending that time and effort in a) increasing the safe and legal means for people to claim refugee status; b) increasing spending and donations to the refugee camps like Zaatari that need so many more resources; c) working on a tangible solution to the crisis.

Now, understand that I don’t condone smugglers – I think they are taking terrible advantage of desperate people who are fleeing traumatic experiences. But history is rife with people/groups/countries taking advantage of demands in war-time (war profiteering, anyone?), and blaming the smugglers for all the refugees is such a small-minded understanding of the situation.

Human rights groups are also raising issues about this tactic. For one, targeting the boats does not diminish the number of people who are trying to flee – all it does is make it easier for smugglers to extort more money and cram more people on the remaining boats, which could in all probability lead to many more deaths than the record number 1,800 people who have drowned so far in 2015 (approximately 3,500 people drowned making the Mediterranean crossing in 2014). Additionally, militarily targeting smuggler boats may run out the comparatively “good” traffickers, and make room for more militant groups who have the fire-power to withstand such aggression from this EU naval mission. Not to mention that it is incredibly difficult to determine who is a smuggler, and who is a local civilian fisherman, thus potentially leading to more civilian deaths.

You can read more about this story here: EU agrees to Mediterranean naval mission to stop migration flow amid controversy

A really important note that I want to share, from the European Council on Refugees and Exiles:

“[R]efugees have a distinct legal status. Refugees are forced to leave their country because their lives are in danger. Migrants and other groups on the move often make a conscious decision for economic and other reasons. Refugees don’t have this choice.”

I know a lot of people use the argument “We have so much to fix in our own country/we should help our poor people here first/our economy can’t handle this many people”……and so on….. I personally think those are crappy excuses. Is there a lot more our own governments can do for people who need help in our own countries? Whether you live in Canada, the US, any where in Europe, or really, anywhere in the world, of course the answer is always YES. But I tend to find that people who use those excuses are the same people who despise the thought of raising taxes, providing social safety nets, homeless shelters, or affordable housing options. The simple fact of the matter is that refugees are people – people who have hope and dreams, who love their families, who experience pain and fear, and who deserve dignity and respect, and the chance to better their lives. Remember, refugees are forced to leave their country because their lives are in danger – if you read any of the Tracks stories that the UNHCR publishes, you will find a common theme – people don’t want to leave their homes. So many people tried to stay in their homes for as long as they could. They tried to live among the bombings and constant threat of death. And when they couldn’t stay any longer, they tried to find a place where they could be safe.

All of this is to say that this decision to target the smugglers and traffickers will really only punish the people who have already been forced to flee from their homes. The EU (and Canada and the US) really needs to step up and undertake more tangible strategies to address this refugee crisis.

Stories of the Day – May 7, 2015

I don’t really have any kind of introduction to my stories of the day today, except that sometimes, on days like today, I wonder how I can see things with such a common-sense view, and other people seem to hiding their heads in the sand and not looking at the big pictures. *sigh* (can’t we all just get along?!). Anyways, with no further ado, here’s what I was reading today:

  • Violence doesn’t erase the legitimacy of grievances – in Baltimore, Tel Aviv or the West Bank
    • This is a REALLY great article. It’s such an obvious and simple parallel – we may all agree that violence is wrong: physical violence, property destruction, looting, etc, but we NEED to look at the injustices that motivate people to resort to violence. We can condemn the violence, but address the injustices that cause that violence. The author makes a splendid comparison with reactions to the riots in Baltimore and the protests by Ethiopian Israelis, and how the world reacts when a Palestinian kid throws a rock at an IDF tank in Gaza.
  • The Syrian Refugees Who Pay With Their Life To Leave
    • “The equivalent of five passenger planes full of people have drowned last week alone, and this is only the start of the summer,” says Kate Allen, Amnesty’s UK director. “If they had been vacationers instead of migrants imagine the response.”
      • This sentence breaks my heart. Think of all the resources that have gone into finding MH370 or the outrage when the Costa Concordia ran aground. Even more than “if they had been vacationers” – imagine if all the refugees were white. Imagine if all of the drowned mothers, fathers, and children, were blonde-haired, blue-eyed, English speakers named John, Sally, and Joe. So much of the response to the refugee crisis has been subtle racism and Islamophobia, and it is absolutely deplorable.
    • (By the way – not only Europe. Here’s a scathing article of how Canada is doing too: Opinion: Canada is failing in its responsibilities to refugees )
  • ‘Blame the Muslims’: Islamophobia is fuelled by government and media
    • To add to my point above – If I don’t have to apologize for crimes committed by white people, or by women, or by Canadians, then Muslim people do not have to apologize for crimes committed by other Muslim people. Period. Full stop. But in this crazy, topsy-turvy world, where, apparently, they do – THEY ARE. After any atrocious act committed by IS/ISIS/ISIL, you will hear community leaders, Imams, or simply just your regular Muslim fellow, condemn those acts of violence. Anyone who tells you that Muslims don’t denounce those acts are not paying enough attention.

Stories of the Day – May 5, 2015

I’m not really intending my “Stories of the Day” posts to be a daily thing, but it looks like I have more interesting reads to share with you today, so away we go!

  • In a follow up to some of the stories I posted yesterday, check out this write up by Glenn GreenwaldSamples of Israeli Horrific Brutality and War Criminality in Gaza
    • If the excerpts I posted last night made you sick, the excerpts grabbed by Glenn Greenwald will make you sicker. My favourite line by him? “This is the savage occupying force known as the Israeli Defense Forces”.
  • Enduring Syria war: Photographer documents shattered childhoods (IMAGES)
    • Since I’m obviously in the business of happy-go-lucky stories (/sarcasm), this photograph series will tug at your heartstrings. I can’t even imagine the pain and the fear and the trauma that these children have endured.
  • Preparing for a ‘death trip’: the story of one Syrian refugee
    • The sheer number of stories of refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean is staggering and heartbreaking. Families torn apart, people being taken advantage of by smugglers, boats being deliberating capsized or sinking because of their poor condition… all goes on and on and on. So much more needs to be done to protect these people. Number one, obviously, would be to stop the conflict in Syria. But even more than that is to make entering European countries much more safe and accessible to refugees. Neighbouring countries have taken in much more than they can possibly deal with, while European and American countries haven’t stepped up at all. All refugees fleeing conflict have been through traumas that the majority of us can’t even imagine; they deserve respect, dignity, and safety, not more trauma from an arduous journey from country to country, that requires illegally crossing borders and paying huge sums of money to human smugglers, to be put on a dinky little boat crammed over-capacity, knowing the very real possibility of dying at sea, and only to be met at the other end with more over-crowding, and lack of resources.

Readings from the ‘Book of Gaza’

Wish I was in London for this!

ArabLit & ArabLit Quarterly

If you’re on London May 27, then you’ll want to find your way to SOAS, where Nayrouz Qarmout will read from the short-story collection The Book of Gaza:

Gaza cover artwork_HR (2) copy

If you’re not in London, then stage your own May 27 reading, silent or otherwise.

The ten-story collection is edited by Atef Abu Saif, who is shortlisted for this year’s International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF). Tomorrow evening, we will  find out whether Abu Saif’s A Suspended Life is the 2015 IPAF winner. Even if not, you will surely be hearing much more about Abu Saif, as he recently released a must-read memoir, The Drone Eats With Me, and was the winner of a recent London residency. He also has the most compelling short story in The Book of Gaza, which is a varied, interesting collection that ranges over four decades of Gazan literary production.

Four of the writers included in the collection are young women: Najlaa Ataallah…

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Stories of the Day – May 4, 2015

So right now it looks more like I’ll be sharing what I’m reading with you, instead of doing a lot of writing myself. Don’t worry, it will come! There are SO many things going on in the world that it’s almost impossible to keep up with it all. Here are just a few things that I’ve found interesting today:

  • Israeli veterans say permissive rules of engagement fueled Gaza carnage
    • This just makes me sick: “The soldiers described reducing Gaza neighborhoods to sand, firing artillery at random houses to avenge fallen comrades, shooting at innocent civilians because they were bored and watching armed drones attack a pair of women talking on cellphones because they were assumed to be Hamas scouts.” [emphasis mine]
    • “A first sergeant serving in the Mechanized Infantry in Gaza told the group, “If we don’t see someone waving a white flag, screaming, ‘I give up’ or something — then he’s a threat and there’s authorization to open fire.” “
  • Israel committed war crimes in Gaza: Amnesty
    • ” “All the evidence we have shows this large-scale destruction was carried out deliberately and with no military justification,” said Philip Luther, director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa programme.“War crimes must be independently and impartially investigated and those responsible should be brought to justice in fair trials.”

      Evidence including statements by the Israeli military at the time indicate the attacks were “a collective punishment against the people of Gaza” designed to destroy their livelihoods, Luther added. ” [emphasis mine]

Guys, remember – killing civilians is against international law. Collective punishment is against international law. Bombing schools, hospitals, and UN facilities is against international law. (repeat ad nauseam until the people with the bombs get it through their thick skulls) (this goes for everyone with bombs).