Saturday, April 04, 2009

Is there a moral obligation to assist refugees fleeing persecution en route?


On Monday, a boat carrying African migrants from Libya to Italy capsized, resulting in the deaths of at least 200 people. Libya is a popular stopping point for migrants whose ultimate destination is Europe, with most continuing on to Italy as a base-point for other destinations in Europe. While many travel to Europe “first and foremost to help their families back home with a paycheck,” many of these people can also qualify as refugees.” Of the 36,000 people that arrived in Italy by sea from North Africa last year, 75% applied for asylum and 50% were granted from form of international protecting.

This is not just an isolated incident. Whether it be by being thrown off board by human smugglers trying not to get caught by navies in the Gulf of Yemen, by dehydration in the hot desert between the US and Mexico, or ships capsizing in dangerous water, thousands died each year on their journeys to seek asylum. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres is quoted as saying; “We are seeing it all over the world.” He believes that Monday’s tragedy shows the desperate steps that people are willing to take “to escape conflict, persecution and poverty in search of a better life.” Human smuggling is a very lucrative business that pries on the desperation of people, particularly those who lack the resources to obtain safe travel. Since it is underground, it lacks any regulation that ensures the safety of migrants. Even if they survive, many migrants are re-traumatized en route to safety. While interning at a human rights organization, I heard numerous horrific stories about what coyotes would do to migrants, particularly women.

Does the international community have a moral obligation to provide refugees with safe transportation between the countries they are fleeing from and where they wish to seek asylum? I believe that what happened on Monday is tragic, but it is even more tragic is that this is a story that happens more often than we realize. I believe the international community should come together and discuss some sort of system that could assist asylum seekers in arriving to safety instead of only providing assistance once they are able to flee themselves from the situation of persecution.

7 comments:

Maribel said...

It is hard to say what the role of the international community should be in terms of providing refugees with safe transportation between countries they are fleeing and countries they wish to seek asylum in. In all reality, the international community cannot be expected to regulate clandestine illegal immigration. The problem that also must be taken into account is that by any nation providing safe transportation, that nation as a result will encourage immigration. I know that the question at hand focuses on providing safe transportation for those fleeing persecution and wishing to seek asylum, however there is no way on knowing who has a legitimate asylum claim. The floodgate that such a situation would allow is that anyone could potentially claim that they are fleeing torture and seeking asylum and be protected. Of course, whether they have a legitimate claim or not, if the international community’s has a moral obligation to provide human beings with safe transportation between countries, mind if they are or are not fleeing persecution then a legit claim does not matter. My point is that in transport, you cannot tell who is and who is not fleeing torture (you can barely figure that out from York County Prison, less from the desserts bordering Mexico and the U.S. ) Everyone is equal in transport and a nation would potentially be providing safe transportation for illegal immigration that could be entering the U.S. to do it harm. I don’t think immigrants being in transport and landless, should not be protected. Of course not-they are human beings-but its difficult to ask a nation to regulate the transportation of something that is as a whole, illegal.

calisunshine said...

I think that the international community definitely has an obligation to better assist refugees in their pursuit of finding safe places to live, free of persecution and violence. While the many cases of economic refugees complicates refugee process because they do not apply for asylum or withholding of removal under any circumstances, I think that if it is the policy of the United States and other leading countries in the developing world to welcome in the persecuted, we also need to provide those refugees with safe and secure avenues to find their way to safety. It is not enough to simply offer asylum and then expect refugees to find their own way to American soil. It is not enough to sit back and watch people die when they are forced to employ dangerous means to arrive at a safe-haven country. In forcing refugees to flee their countries on their own, we are basically forcing them to forge documents, secure illegal passports, or utilize other means that end up hurting their asylum case when they are forced to prove their credibility before the court. Ultimately, whether intentional or non-intentional, it appears this anomaly in the system is a way to easily reject applications without having to take responsibility for the position that the asylum systems of developing nations put refugees in. We do have a moral obligation. There is no way around it.

Elle said...

While calisunshine makes an impassioned point, I cannot agree that developed countries have a moral obligation to provide transportation. We have to remember the definition of sovereignty that was established in 1648. Providing means for people easily leave a country definitely violates the sovereignty of other nations. I absolutely sympathize with persecuted people all over the world, but I don't see how receiving countries could possibly provide transportation without draining everyone from developing countries. How do you tell the difference between an relief seeker and an economic immigrant? This distinction is nearly impossible and it is ridiculous to even consider not screening people before they take advantage of such transportation. Due to the abundance of cases and the severe lack of legal representation for those who are currently in the system, creating a means for people to more easily enter receiving countries is just unfeasible. It's also irresponsible. How can we invite more people into the country when we know that they will just languish in detention centers for years awaiting trials? While accidents such as the one in the Mediterranean are a tragedy, I don't see how such issues can be remedied without causing more problems.

Anonymous said...

While I hope that any good person would willfully help a refugee in mortal danger, I do not see a possibility for countries to implement policies that insure the safety of illegal migration. Like many matters within the immigration debates, the best option is for the government to look the other way while lives were saved. In the case of refugees, they seem more deserving of help. However, how could one identify a boat full of refugees versus migrant workers crossing the borders illegally? However I can hope along with you that one day there would be safer ways to cross borders. The horrendous conditions in which Mexicans cross into the United States is not only incredible dangerous for them, but it also has negative affects on us, here. Illegal immigrants that travel through sewers, for example, bring rat-related illnesses with them here. If they did not have to travel through the sewers to get here, that would not be an issue.
I recall the Dream Act, in which children of illegal immigrants are promised rights to education, etc. This act provided the incentive to bring children illegally with their parents through these horrible conditions. Then the children were experiencing the horrors of coyotes and traveling in the mountains, the deserts and the sewers. For every change there are unexpected backlashes. As other comments have mentioned, it would allow for a flooding of developing country citizens into developed countries.
Therefore, while the tragedies that occur when crossing borders illegally are unnecessary and unfortunate, I do not see the implementation of a policy for safer transfer anywhere on our horizon.

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