Fighting indifference is the first step to ending the global migration crisis

Published: 5 May 2015 16:11 CET

By Joelle Tanguy, IFRC undersecretary general

For millions of Europeans, the Mediterranean conjures visions of temperate breezes, treasures of antiquity and tranquil waters. But for hundreds of thousands of people coming to Europe and millions back in their homeland, the Mediterranean is now seen as a deadly border, a mass grave. How can we accept with indifference that view of the world and the little empathy or sympathy the migrants’ plight inspires?

Last year, the number of people forced to flee their homes across the world exceeded 50 million for the first time since the Second World War. Over 5,000 people are believed to have died while attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Europe in the last 18 months. Since January, 1,750 people have died en route from Libya to Lampedusa, making it the deadliest migrant route in the world. The catastrophe on April 18, 2015 in which a boat carrying 800 migrants capsized represents the single largest loss of life on the Mediterranean.

The numbers of those attempting to cross are swelling. This weekend alone – in what became the biggest rescue operation of the year – almost 7,000 migrants were rescued from overcrowded boats doing the perilous journey, including a baby girl born after the rescue on an Italian navy ship.

They were fleeing conflict and poverty in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia; seeking opportunities for a better and safer life for themselves and their families.

What happened to these stranded migrants on what could have been their last, deadly journey? They were returned to war-torn Libya actually. Most likely they will take the risk again and human traffickers will continue to thrive on the chaos to profit from their aspirations to find safety, prosperity and dignity.

On the same weekend, thousands of miles away, a joint military-police task force discovered the mass grave containing at least 30 bodies in Thailand, near the border with Malaysia. These migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh, trafficked across the Andaman Sea, starved to death or died of disease while held by traffickers who were awaiting payment of ransoms before smuggling them into Malaysia.

These tragedies illustrate a larger, global crisis unfolding on all continents. Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers are often on the front-line of efforts to provide assistance and protection to vulnerable migrants. They enjoy great support from host communities however poor they may be. In Sicily for example, local communities have demonstrated such wonderful humanity, hospitality and solidarity with the migrants. Why doesn’t the world feel the same way?

With global mobility on the rise, partly fuelled by large scale urbanisation, economic disparities and protracted conflicts, the international community is repeatedly proving its inability to address the plight of the most vulnerable migrants around the world.

All migrants share with us dreams of a life of dignity and prosperity. Many are running simply to stay alive. Many meet tragedy and indifference to their suffering and aspirations.

The public narrative around migrants is at fault. Their plight is ignored and potential is obscured in the rush to portray them as a cloaked threat, woven in a confused security and economic discourse that fuels hatred and indifference.

There is an urgent need to challenge the acceptance of these deadly journeys, to understand the causes and consequences, to find humane and effective ways of enhancing their protection, and finding solutions to the crisis at hand.

Find the migrant in you. We are all seeking life of dignity and prosperity.