We must protect humanity, and halt indifference

Published: 22 June 2016 13:54 CET

By Youssou N’Dour and Elhadj As Sy

We are sons of the Sahel. We played on its sand, breathed its hot and nurturing air. We grew under its bright sun, found joy and meaning among its people. They are our brothers, our sisters, our daughters, our sons.

They are our people, and they are dying. On roads across the Sahara they walk and they hope. In towns and camps in North Africa, they huddle and they hope. On boats, ill-equipped and dangerous, they cast off, and they hope. They cling and pray as the Mediterranean rises and falls, as storms hit, as engines fail, as vessels struggle to cope with a cargo far too large and far too precious, as they lilt, and then tip.

They capsize and struggle to keep their heads above water. And for too many of them, far too many of them, they never resurface. In search of hope, they drown, washing up on foreign shores.

In 2015, nearly half of the 2,085 people who died while crossing the Mediterranean were African. This year, almost 2,900 people have already drowned, including many, of our own compatriots.

They drown, and their deaths are greeted with something that is even worse than silence: indifference. But this indifference is not just in Europe, where so much attention and criticism has been focused. It also pervades the halls of Dakar, Abuja, Bamako and Abidjan.

Today, we stand together to call for an end to this indifference. Our asks are simple:

First, we call on our leaders to demonstrate that they care. The deaths of their countrymen should be an outrage. Where is the condemnation, the anguish, the grief? How can we expect the rest of the world to care, if we do not?

Second, we must offer something new for those who would turn to human traffickers. We must offer a new narrative, one that counters the cynical and deadly misinformation campaigns of the smugglers. Our goal should not be to prevent people from moving. Instead, it should be to ensure that those who decide to make the journey can do so in an informed way, with access to all the information they need, including information on the dangers they will face.

Finally, we must accompany this new narrative with something that has been lost: hope. Our young people leave because they think that hope only exists on another continent. We call on our leaders to invest in activities that will allow people to find a purpose and opportunities, so that they feel they have a true choice about where they should spend their lives. We know why people leave: they leave because they feel isolated and marginalized, because they cannot access education or find employment. If we work together, we can change this perception.

For our part, we pledge to join authorities, to work with communities, and to rebuild hope.

We are sons of the Sahel. We are Africans. We do not accept that our brothers and sisters are turning the Mediterranean into a vast, watery graveyard. We refuse the indifference, in hope and dignity.

Youssou N’Dour is an African artist, author, composer and opinion leader.

Elhadj As Sy is the Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the world’s largest humanitarian network.

This piece was originally published, in French, by Le Monde on 20 June 2016 (subscription required). It is also available on Grotious International.