LONDON – In the last week of May, at least 1,050 migrants and asylum-seekers died in the Mediterranean Sea, victims of the international community’s unwillingness to address the needs of the world’s most vulnerable people. More than 2,800 migrants have died at sea so far this year – up nearly 40% from the same period in 2015. Almost all of those deaths could have been prevented. With every life that is extinguished, we are losing a bit of our humanity.
Clearly, the international response to the refugee crisis has done little to mitigate it. The surge of people risking their lives to cross from North Africa has confirmed that, regardless of targeted arrangements like that between the European Union and Turkey, flows of people across the Mediterranean are set to continue.
That should come as no surprise. The migrants from North Africa who have reached the shores of Italy fled war in Iraq and Syria, forced conscription in Eritrea, permanent conflict in Afghanistan, and criminal violence in other parts of Africa. Some may not technically be refugees, as defined by the 1951 Refugee Convention. But nearly all of them are fleeing dire situations caused by interstate conflict, internal strife, natural disasters, and economic collapse. Whatever their legal status, they deserve dignity and protection from abuse – and for every effort to be made to ensure their safety.
It is time to accept the facts: walls, fences, and patrolling warships cannot stop the flight of desperate people. What they do is aggravate the dangers migrants face on their journey and benefit the smugglers who prey on them; last year alone, human traffickers earned $5-6 billion from migrants crossing into Europe.