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.