The poet Warsan Shire once wrote “no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.” The poignant image of the toddler alone, washed up on the beach, pulls us from our daily lives to think about our humanity. The crisis becomes a moral question.
At iguacu, we closely cover many of the countries that are the source of the refugees, and we well understand why people are making such desperate decisions. Let’s not lose sight of the human element of this crisis and its ultimate driver, war.
According to the UN, the majority of those crossing the Mediterranean are fleeing from war, conflict or persecution, making the Mediterranean crisis primarily a refugee crisis rather than a migrant one. This is a fact that is sadly often forgotten in the heat of discussions over European laws and domestic politics. Refugees today come from many countries in Africa but also from Afghanistan and Syria.
Syrians represent the biggest number of refugees in the world today as a result of the conflict that has been raging since 2011, and for which no political solution has been reached. The number of people fleeing Syria has exceeded 4 million people. The majority of them live in neighbouring countries already suffering from social and economic problems. According to UNHCR, Lebanon alone hosts over 1.1 million Syrian refugees, that’s one quarter of the resident population. This makes Lebanon the highest per-capita concentration of refugees worldwide. It receives today over three and a half times more Syrian refugees than 28 European countries combined. Indeed, Europe hosts only around 6% of the total Syrian refugees.
This year, as of September 1st, 2015, there have been 2432 fatalities in the Mediterranean, many of which are from Syria. But death does not happen only at sea. On August 28th, Austria woke up to the appalling sight of over 71 dead people, including children, in an abandoned lorry. A Syrian passport was found in the truck.
The incident shocked Europe and raised the issue of refugees on the public agenda. In Austria following the terrible news over 20,000 people took to the streets of Vienna to demonstrate against the ill-treatment of refugees.
In Iceland, more than 11,000 families have offered to open their homes to Syrian refugees in a bid to raise the government’s cap set at just 50 asylum seekers a year. Whereas Germany, in a courageous move, has suspended the application of the Dublin convention for Syrian refugees (where many were at risk of deportation); effectively welcoming all Syrian refugees regardless of their European country of entry. Thousands of Syrian refugees have arrived in Germany since the decision was made and hundreds of German have rushed to receive them holding signs saying “refugees welcome.”
These are great examples of compassion and solidarity. They also demonstrate a spreading awareness that building higher and higher fences, will not only fail to stop the crisis, but also question our moral values.
Ultimately, the only way to end the suffering of refugees is to solve the serious problems in the refugees’ countries of origin, by supporting the humanitarian response, and by making more urgent concerted international efforts to seek an enduring peace settlement. Once the land becomes safer than the water… no one will put their children in a boat.