Refugees at the port of Catania. Demotix/Salvatore Allegra. All rights reserved.In the past week Europe has experienced the biggest refugee crisis since World War II, with thousands of refugees pouring in from Syria and North Africa, fleeing war, poverty, and political oppression. All eyes have been on the crisis, and photographs and videos of Syrians walking towards Germany, Hungary’s wire fences and packed train stations, and helpful Europeans greeting refugees have been clicked and shared on social media across the world.
However as these images and stories grow, we have to remember what this ‘crisis’ is: it is not a European crisis. It is a crisis for those fleeing. If we focus all our attention on Europe’ reception of refugees, then we are forgetting the biggest disasters coming out of this moment.
The war is still raging
The war in Syria is still raging and politicians hold very few answers about what to do about it. Since 2011, a quarter million Syrians have died, and 11 million have had to leave their home out of fear of death. Outside nations have done little to stop this humanitarian disaster. As Lina Khatib said in a recent New York Times article on the crisis, “Had European countries sought serious solutions to political conflicts like the one in Syria, and dedicated enough time and resources to humanitarian assistance abroad, Europe would not be in this position today.”
Western governments continue at a standstill on how to approach the conflict and humanitarian disaster, even as death tolls continue to mount. Instead of focusing on helping those most vulnerable, the US and Russia are caught in a power struggle over influence in the region. The war in Syria has become completely out of the control of the Syrian people, and until governments focus on ending the conflict, people will keep fleeing for their lives.
And this is just Syria. Refugees of poverty and political oppression in Libya, Eritrea, and other African nations have also been forced to leave their countries and make the arduous journey somewhere safer.
People are still crossing, and still dying
Refugees desperate for safety are still choosing to place their fate in the Mediterranean rather than risk dying at home. Even though it is getting colder, and the waters are getting choppier, people are still setting out onto the Mediterranean in hopes of finding a liveable situation somewhere else. 300,000 people have made the journey across the Mediterranean this year alone, up from 200,000 last year. And the death toll is stark. In the last few weeks, 200 people have gone missing, 100 have died from suffocation in the hold of boats, and 20 have been crushed to death while people flee unsafe dinghies. With the end of Italy’s Mare Nostrum Mission, the prospects look even grimmer as we march towards the winter.
What’s to be done?
Instead of focusing on this humanitarian crisis, governments in Europe, the United States and Canada are only concerned with the number of migrants they can take in. Walls, detention centres, and silence seem to be the official responses as more people die and risk their lives in hopes to escape death.
We must not let Europe’s xenophobic anxiety steal the focus of this humanitarian disaster. We need international intervention in Syria, and we need help in the seas. Operations like MOAS and Mare Nostrum have saved more than 11,000 lives and offer the most vital resources for these refugees. Until our governments wake up to this crisis of humanity, we as citizens need to take things into our own hands and save the lives of refugees in any way we can. One of the most important ways is by ensuring safety as they cross the Mediterranean.
This article is written in support of People's Armada, a crowdfunding campaign to raise $3,000,000 in 10 days to buy Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) another search and rescue boat. Our initial target is enough for MOAS to buy and refit one ship, but ultimately we aim to raise enough to send an armada of crowdfunded ships to save thousands of lives. All money raised goes directly to MOAS. Please join us here: www.peoplesarmada.com