Saturday, April 04, 2009
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.