Dying for asylum

Actually, after returning home from the trek, the first thing I wanted to publish was an overview (in numbers) of this summer’s trip. I recently prepared this overview; but it hardly feels appropriate right now to brag about my trek when 700 people recently died in the Mediterranean Sea, including possibly 100 children, after two boats sank.

The death of around 500 people in one boat last week apparently was a deliberate mass murder, committed by ruthless smugglers who rammed and sunk the boat when the refugees refused to obey their orders to get into a smaller, less seaworthy boat, in the middle of the ocean. I hope (with my entire being) that justice will be served, as here the direct responsibility is more easily attributable than in the countless other cases where migrants on unseaworthy vessels have died trying to reach Europe.

But it is easy to forget that the traffickers (however callous or humane they individually may be) only cater to an existing demand. What compels ordinary people – in this case people from the Middle East and Africa – to place their lives in the hands of international criminals on the high seas are not just the conflicts and poverty they are fleeing from, but also the barriers raised by European countries against migration. The traffickers merely offer migrants and asylum-seekers the best deal at trying to get over and around the walls of “Fortress Europe”.

As the head of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) explained after last week’s tragedy: “The only way to neutralize these criminal organizations is to start opening legal entry channels to Europe for all people, men, women and children, who flee from their countries in search of protection.” Yes, tragedies like this one are preventable. A little more compassion and respect for the fundamental human right to migrate and seek asylum would allow people to have their cases assessed without dying en route at the hands of ruthless criminals. Europe needs to tear down its walls. It would only seem fair.