It is with horror that I witness the deaths of people on boats coming into Europe. The whole issues of deaths at sea for people seeking to escape impossible realities where they are from, has something that has outraged me for a very long time. Global Citizen Contact Point is in its infancy but in time I hope this issue will form a core issue which we can highlight as much as possible.
It is hard to find words which will adequately reflect my sorrow for the people who died, my utter sympathy for the families of those concerned and my desire to let them know that the policies of the European Union do not represent all of us who live here. Yet in whatever way any of us can, within the limitations of our resources, we have to do something and say something.
Europe cannot, simply cannot continue to let this happen. My understanding is that something like 900 people have died trying to reach our shores this week. We have to imagine, if this were 900 Irish people what would be happening in this country today? There would be massive headlines with minute to minute coverage of who the people were, their stories, comment from families and public protest. In the future there would be memorials. Think of how we still commemorate the Lusitania or the Titanic.
Essentially there is a moat around this fortress which his Europe. Anyone trying to get across that moat is called “an illegal migrant”. I have heard the term used over and over again in the media over the last few days. How can a human being be illegal? No human being should be called illegal. Using terms like “illegal migrant”, in my view somehow allows us to distance ourselves from “them”. The word “illegal” evokes notions of criminality or at least “bad people” who shouldn’t be coming anywhere near us.
European leaders are meeting this week. Let us hope they reflect as human beings on the fact that it is they who made a decision to scale back the Mare Nostrum operation for fear that it would, in the words of the German interior minister, become “a bridge to Europe” for hundreds of thousands fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East. We hear of the arrest of the “people traffickers” described on today’s media as “some consolation” for European leaders. The European leaders have far more to answer than those capitalising from this tragedy. Not just because of the scale back in rescue operations but because of ‘western’ intervention in Iraq, Syria and Libya. This is a humanitarian disaster of a huge scale. It is a moment for Global Citizenship. We all inhabit this planet together and just because we happen to have been born on one side of the moat does not give us the right to hide behind fear and self-interest.
I don’t have the answers. I do not have the expertise to have such answers. But I can say what I want our Irish and European leaders to do. And I want them to find solutions. Of course it is complex, highly complex but in the end it is about who we are as humans and what we mean by humanity. I feel that this goes beyond “rights”. Of course people have the right to live and to protection from war, genocide, hunger, poverty, rape and trafficking. This is now about European people looking at what it means to be human. This is a moral issue. There is a moral duty to take political action. As Leonard Doyle, the spokesperson for the International Office for Migration in Geneva said the deaths of “migrants has finally made it to the international radar, we’re starting to see people react to the humanitarian aspect of it.”
While we wait for action lets a least express our outrage and remember those who have so tragically died and their families.