Ignoring the global migration crisis is no longer an option. Not when images of rickety, sinking ships (if the flimsy craft can be called that) crammed with panicked passengers falling overboard are shown globally. And if those horrifying optics don’t shock consciousness, these stark statistics will: Some 700 migrants may have drowned in the Mediterranean during just three days in late May, and in the first five months of 2016 about 2,510 lives have been lost at sea, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
That compares with 1,855 and 57 drowning victims during the same time frame in 2015 and 2014, respectively.
Some who drowned were refugees from war-torn nations. But many were migrants fleeing a more insidious violence: poverty. Many of these people were African, and the route from Libya to Italy is particularly perilous, with the odds of dying 1 in 23, according to the UNHCR.
“Yes, there is a crisis in the number of people,” Daniel Wordsworth, president and CEO of the Minneapolis-based American Refugee Committee told an editorial writer. But, he added, “what’s really causing this crisis is the dispersion, that people are no longer waiting in refugee camps, that they’re crossing in boats, that they’re arriving in Italy and Greece, that there are a million in Germany, that people are no longer waiting in a place like Chad, but instead they’re taking their future — and in particular they’re taking the future of their children — into their hands.”
The dispersion is the most acute since World War II and, like then, the problem is truly global. The response should be, too.
Some countries exacerbate the situation (like Russia’s immoral support for Syrian President Bashar Assad) and others do little to alleviate it (like China, whose approach to Africa has been more mercantile than humanitarian, or rich Gulf states that have not risen to the crisis in their backyard). The necessary global consensus and cohesion is missing. Contiguous countries bear an unfair and unsustainable burden, and even some richer European Union nations have seen a surge in right-wing movements in response to the crisis.
The right-wing response in this country, led by Donald Trump, isn’t helping matters, either. And neither are perceptions from the horrific Orlando attack. But it should be remembered that the nightclub killer who pledged allegiance to terrorism was not an immigrant, but a homegrown, apparently self-radicalized, individual. Many Mideast migrants are fleeing the very same extremist groups and the despotic regimes that create them.
For its part, the Obama administration must bust through the procedural problems that has it lagging on its already-modest goal of accepting 10,000 Syrian refugees this year. Yes, as this page has advocated, proper screening is imperative, especially given the violence some immigrants have been responsible for in Germany and elsewhere. But no, it’s not impossible, and it must be more timely.
And while governments and international institutions must lead, individuals also can help alleviate the misery by backing immigration policies and organizations as well as sponsoring displaced people, as so many Minnesotans have notably and nobly done with previous refugee waves.
“We have the ability to take care of these people,” Wordsworth said. “There is no reason to be disempowered by this.”
Especially since being disempowered leads to lost lives and dangerously destabilized geopolitics.