While you holiday in the Mediterranean this summer, migrants are dying in it.

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Apologies for the severe tone to the headline of this article, but the unfortunate reality is that it’s true. While many of us in the UK & Northern Europe will spend our holidays in Mediterranean resorts this summer, many migrants seeking asylum will die trying to cross the Med from Africa and the Middle East. And the worst part of it all is that much of it was, and is, completely avoidable. Literally, all our government(s) needed to do was chip into the previous Mare Norstrum search and rescue operations that were being conducted by Italy, i.e. search and rescue missions that were saving over 100,000 asylum seekers per year. When they refused, Italy could no longer afford it, packed-up, and instead we now have the EU backed Triton operation which covers nowhere near as much sea as what the previous Mare Nostrum mission did. There has already been a spike this year in the number of deaths since the change.

A quick background to the crisis in stats:

  • So far in 2015 more than 1000 asylum seekers, i.e. men, women and children, have died trying to cross the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas.
  • The death toll in 2015 is already around 20 times higher than it was in 2014.
  • There was previously a large scale search & rescue operation conducted by Italy called Mare Nostrum that was saving around 100,000 asylum seekers per year from the sea.
  • Mare Nostrum was costing Italy approximately €9m per month.
  • After repeatedly asking other EU countries to chip into Mare Nostrum (to no avail), Italy ended Mare Nostrum and the EU replaced it with the Triton operation.
  • Triton covers an area of sea just 30 miles out from the Italian coast whereas Mare Nostrum was covering an area of 27,000 square miles (see diagram further down in the article for a better view of how much more area was covered by the Italian operation).
  • Triton costs the EU around €2.9m per month (less than a third of Mare Nostrum’s budget)
  • Mare Nostrum had manpower of 900 military personnel whereas Triton has just 65 officers.

What was happening before versus what is happening now

To give you a brief summary of what’s happening now versus what was happening before, here is a diagram that I found via the Amnesty International website. It shows the position where most incidents are happening, where Mare Nostrum (the previous Italian-backed search & resuce operatation) was patrolling, and where the current EU-backed Triton operation is patrolling. As you can see clearly, Triton is not patrolling a large enough area to save many of the boats in time.

where patrols happen in EU currently

What should be happening

Of course, the simple answer is that we, i.e. the EU (and in particular Northern European countries such as the UK), should be putting more money into delivering an operation similar to the previous Italian search & rescue that was saving 100,000 people per year. Triton needs to cover a bigger area, and it needs to be more about search & rescue than border control. In terms of just saving lives, we can literally do that by doing those two things.

Why it hasn’t happened already

Some of the reasons originally given from the countries not contributing to the previous Mare Nostrum operation were that they felt an operation like Mare Nostrum would encourage more illegal migrants to try and cross into Europe. However, as was predicated by many refugee and human rights organisations at the time, the abolition of Mare Nostrum has not stopped migrants trying to make the journey across the Med! All it has done is cause more deaths. Needless deaths of men, women and children. There are pregnant women trying to make this journey, lone children and other extremely vulnerable people. Even if we are to take their word for it, i.e. the governments in Europe who do not want to make a contribution, that they genuinely had a fear of encouraging migrants to take the journey instead of just trying to cut their budgets, this has now been proved wrong by the numbers of those still crossing. The only difference is that there are now more deaths.

The reality check

Migrants aren’t going to stop crossing the Mediterranean or Aegean Seas trying to get to Europe. The unfortunate reality is that the horrors of countries like Syria right now are so bad that many feel the risk of death in the Med is worth it to try and escape whatever hell they’re coming from.

What you can do about it

If you’d like the EU (and the UK in particular) to take more responsibility in ending this crisis, please sign this petition organised by Amnesty International which can be found here – http://www.amnesty.org.uk/issues/Refugees-and-asylum

Also, with just 2 days to go until the UK General Election, you can tweet any of the main party leaders about this and ask them how they intend to deal with the crisis should they get into power. I’ve listed some of their twitter profiles below:

@NicolaSturgeon – SNP

@Ed_Miliband – Labour

@David_Cameron – Conservatives

@Nick_Clegg – Liberal Democrats

@NatalieBen – The Green Party

Sources: https://www.amnesty.org.uk/actions/dont-let-them-drown-mediterranean, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/17/death-mediterranean-africans-migrant-sea-libya, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/31/italy-sea-mission-thousands-risk, http://www.heraldscotland.com/mobile/news/home-news/scotland-doesnt-want-cruel-heartless-rhetoric-about-the-refugee-crisis-in-the-med-it-.124290848.

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10 Responses to “While you holiday in the Mediterranean this summer, migrants are dying in it.”

  1. rob says:

    So, it sucks to be the people dying. On the other hand, doesn’t Europe have a huge problem will illegals already? Doesn’t it suck for the European countries to have them actually arrive on-shore alive?

    Rescuing and repatriating them is one ting, but if they they are rescued and then come to Europe where they are a burden on already stressed European economies,that’s not so good either.

    I don’t know what each illegal/refugee/migrant costs the European country in which they settle, but it’s clearly true that if they die at sea the cost is zero. It may sound harsh, but from an economic standpoint it’s clearly best to let them drown.

    It’s easy to understand not funding S&R operations. They save the cost of S&R and they save the cost of having to deal with the people they would rescue.

    I suppose the people that want to have their various governments *do* something should also be asking how to contribute money to the cost of the rescues and the cost of housing and feeding the refugees.

    • Jane Meighan says:

      I can’t speak for every country in the EU, but when it comes to finding money from the UK budget to make a contribution there are plenty of ways we could be spending money better. For example, getting rid of the Trident nuclear missile programme would save us millions, some of which could easily be repatriated towards this cause. However, I think what depresses me the most about this situation (and to be honest your comment) is when people equate life to economic value. When we put a price on people’s heads and deem them not worthy enough to live. It just seems morally wrong to me to do that, and I personally don’t want to live in a society where we say we would rather let people die than contribute a little bit more bit money.

      But to touch upon another point about the current economic state of Europe – it wasn’t migrants who caused the current financial woes of the EU. It was bankers living in a culture of gambling with people’s money and it was politicians not intervening when they should have to prevent the financial meltdown even happening. Then we have to look at some of the reasons why the countries some of people are fleeing from are in the state that they are in. Look at the history of Africa and you’ll see nothing but exploitation from the West. Can anyone also really look at the Middle East and say that the west is not at least partly responsible for the instability there?

      I don’t accept that there is no money to save these people from dying. I’ll take a few exceptions with the likes of Greece or some of the other countries most hard hit by the financial crisis in the EU, but certainly from a Northern European perspective there are plenty countries that could contribute more than they are currently.

      For me, life is more important than money.

      • Rob says:

        I’m not myself necessarily creating a relationship between lives and economics, although there is a precedent for doing that. Just explaining what is likely going on.

        Some people may well view the nuclear missile program as being more important an investment than a boatload of Africans, and can no doubt argue that coherently.

        Anyway .. my point before was to point out that there *is* logic, even if you disagree with it, to letting the migrants die rather than rescuing them. Part of it’s likely economic. Part of it’s likely “who cares – they’re just brown people” and there are no doubt other factors as well. For example, Muslims are becoming more and more of a problem in Europe. Why rescue and feed more of them? I’ll bet there are a number of people who’ve put it just that bluntly to each other.

        But it’s good you’ve adopted it as a cause. Everyone needs to have something to drive them and refugee crises are always there to be helped.

        • Jane Meighan says:

          Hmm… ignorant statements like ‘Muslims are becoming more and more of a problem in Europe’ are not something I personally think we can pander to in Europe, regardless of who’s saying them. First off, is Islam really a problem or is extremism a problem? And then, how much of a problem is extremism in Europe compared to other problems? Haven’t Muslims just become folk devils to Western media trying to justify invasions into oil rich parts of the Middle East and promote far right ideologies? I recall my parents talking about the days when being a Catholic in the UK was a bit like being a Muslim now – viewed as some sort of scary outsider when really you’re just as much of a citizen as the next person who was also born here.

          I never said I didn’t understand the economic logic of your previous statement, I just think the question in itself is wrong. If we ask the wrong question to begin with we will get the wrong answer. For me, this has and always will be a humanitarian issue, not an economic one. If we only ask economic questions when referencing humanitarian causes, we’re losing the currency of compassion. Just my thoughts though.

          • Rob says:

            Yes, of course it’s extremism that is the problem. It just happens that extremist muslims are the problem *today* and are giving all muslims a bad name. Also, the fact that the religion and its extremism seem tied to cultural practices we in the western world dislike (genital mutilation, general oppression of women, etc.) allows us to tie the religion and culture together as something offensive.

            As for economics, at some point you have to accept that there is an actual value associated with a human (or any other animal) life.

            Will you, personally, give up your western lifestyle and comforts and host a refugee family in your home? Pay for their food, clothing, etc. and spend all your time working for their benefit? Probably not. How about the alcoholic or the mentally ill street person you walk by every day? Do you offer to host them and pay for their lives? If you’re not doing these things (and I don’t recommend it, BTW) then you’ve drawn your own line in the sand that says “I care, up to a point”.

            Once you’ve established or acknowledged that, then the next step is to start making other decisions based on the fact that you *do* draw a correlation between your personal life & wealth and that of people less fortunate. It’s easy to try (if that’s what you were doing) to make people feel guilty about vacations and say that “the government” should help, but the reality is that any government money spent is *your* money, or your neighbors’ money. If you’re not willing to give all that you have to support your cause then it’s not reasonable to ask others to do so.

            In my case, as someone older than you, I’ve been watching advertisements for charities to help starving africans since I was old enough to understand the concept of food costing money. I’ve seen beggars on the streets in Canada, Sweden, Germany, and here in the USA when I’ve lived in all those places and virtually everywhere else (except, oddly, muslim countries) I’ve traveled. Initially, after I became a member of the working world I would even contribute, until I realized that giving money to them directly just supported the problem. Giving money to charities just supports the charity and doesn’t address the problem. And that’s because there is no solution. There will always be refugees, addicts and street people. Nobody can fix that.

            I have friends who volunteer at a local homeless shelter and over the years they have become more and more beaten down by the endless supply of misery. Trying to help is like bailing the ocean with a teacup.

            And so, I choose not to care. Just as the refugees that are the subject of your original posting don’t care about you. They *do* want your food, money, shelter, and whatever you can give them, but they don’t care about you. And when well fed and warm they’ll probably hate you. I spent 4 years living in Stockholm and saw first hand the ungratefulness and bitterness of the refugees helped by Sweden.

            That obvious ungratefulness along with the crime and ugliness that they brought to Sweden caused most Swedes to hate them back and wish they’d go back to their own countries.

            Anyway .. the problem is endless and varied. If trying to help makes you feel good there are many opportunities. Years of observation, though, leads me to advise you not to get too emotionally involved. It’ll destroy you if you do and once the problem has destroyed your life it’ll still be there, unchanged.

  2. @Jane – I agree with you not putting economic value on humanitarian activities. However will Mare Nostrum be a long term solution. Shouldn’t energy be redirected towards root cause of this issue?

    @Rob – Will we have a happy neighborhood without happy neighbors?

    • Jane Meighan says:

      @Soumyojit I agree completely that energy should be redirected towards the root causes of the issue. However, given the wide scope of the countries that these people are coming from, and also how complicated the issues are in the originating countries, it will more than likely take a lot of time to make any real difference into the numbers of asylum seekers currently trying to cross. I feel like Mare Nostrum (or something like it) is a necessary solution in the mean-time to prevent the countless deaths. Probably the most sensible solution would be to have Mare Nostrum operating right now, whilst also working on longer term strategies in the background to reduce the overall numbers of people trying to cross. What do you think?

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