IFRC

It is vital to retain our focus on the global migration crisis

Published: 12 May 2015 0:22 CET

It is right that so much of the world's attention and sympathy is focused on the victims of the recent earthquake in Nepal. It is also right that we don't lose sight of the other humanitarian crisis that dominated our attention in the days preceding the earthquake - that of migrants drowning in the Mediterranean Sea.

Both crises are tragic and have taken thousands of lives. However, the sudden onset of a natural disaster makes a lot of difference to the way we react as observers. Prolonged, complex crises that accumulate victims over time fail to generate the outpouring of support commonly provided during an earthquake or a typhoon.

We need to recognize that the plight of migrants also constitutes a humanitarian emergency. Over 5,000 people are believed to have lost their lives attempting to reach Europe via the Mediterranean in the last 18 months. This makes these waters the most dangerous borders in the world. This should trigger action, commitment and support. 

We, the Red Cross and Red Crescent, know that the greatest efforts need to focus on the points of origin – on providing humanitarian assistance and making diplomatic efforts to ease conditions within the conflict zones, refugee camps and impoverished countries that people are fleeing from. Addressing the underlying issues should be at the heart of any strategy. We are, however, realistic about the ability of this approach to produce instant results. Many of the world’s most violent conflicts, such as those in Syria, Iraq or South Sudan, are far from resolution. Some of the world's most difficult political contexts, such as in the Horn of Africa, will not be resolved through aid alone. 

Even where substantial aid is provided, such as in refugee camps, we know that tents, blankets and food make life slightly more tolerable, but they do not reduce the hardship, indignity and frustration of camp life. It is only natural that people want and need more than to be kept alive by aid. Therefore the most desperate and determined will continue to risk everything for the chance to build a better future.

Any attempt to suppress that ambition will fail. In many cases, it will also be morally unjustifiable considering the terrors and extreme poverty that people are fleeing from and the numbers of people on the move. Last year, the number of people forced to migrate exceeded 50 million for the first time since the Second World War.

People will continue to flee desperate situations, and inaction by States, including the EU and its member states will only lead to more suffering. It will mean more harrowing tales of exploitation and abuse, culminating in terrifying and deadly journeys like the one across the Mediterranean Sea.

Many have been urging for inaction as all options to ease the journey could be seen as a pull factor. We in the Red Cross urge our governments to rise above such rhetoric, recognise that migration is a fact of life, and meet their obligations under international law. We must find humane and effective ways of managing it as an international community. 

Last month, European leaders held a summit in Brussels and committed to increasing the search and rescue operations across the Mediterranean.

Improving the scope of search and rescue is vital but should be only one component of a broader strategy. 

The summit was just the beginning. We need to build on it to develop migration and asylum policies which are forward-looking and firmly based on the principles of humanity, solidarity and respect for human rights. These policies must both aim to address the underlying issues, and ensure legal protection and essential humanitarian assistance along the well-known migration routes. 

Controversially, but crucially, it will also require doing more to offer safe and legal ways to claim asylum across Europe and to distribute that responsibility proportionately and fairly across the continent. Despite fears to the contrary, this will still represent a minority of asylum applications. As UNHCR continues to emphasize - over 80% of refugees choose to stay as close as possible to their country of origin in order to preserve the possibility of going home. Consequently, this places the lion’s share of the responsibility for supporting the world’s most vulnerable people not on the shoulders of the first world economies of Europe but on the shoulders of some of the world’s poorest countries. 

We should bear that fact in mind before denying our responsibilities in this crisis. Migration and asylum claims are part of our modern world, and we need to be pro-active in international collaboration between countries of origin, transit and destination in order to preserve the right to seek international protection.

This might not be popular everywhere, but it is the right thing to do.


Elhadj As Sy, Secretary General, IFRC, and the Secretaries General/CEOs of 19 European Red Cross Societies (link: http://www.redcross.eu/en/).




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The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is the world's largest humanitarian organization, with 190 member National Societies. As part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, our work is guided by seven fundamental principles; humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality. About this site & copyright