Saturday, April 25, 2015

Mediterranean Migration Crisis: Do Not Blame the Smugglers...

The recent disasters in the Mediterranean have brought immigration and human trafficking to the top of European agenda. EU has responded with a predictable face–lifting proposals—promising to
triple the maritime patrols and tackle the issue "at its root", by attacking human traffickers, and by improving the border policing of the African states (in particular Libya).

Cayuco approached by a spanish Salvamar vessel

But this is not the root of the problem. The main underlying problem is the world inequality, both in humanitarian and economic sense. Too many people are living in a desperate situation, be it because of threat to their lives, or lack of opportunities in the place where they happen to live. And for these people, the smugglers are simply the least bad of the available options.

I stress this again---the traffickers are the best available option for hundreds of thousands of migrants. All these people hope that the traffickers help them to escape death and poverty, and to fulfill their dreams of a better life. They are willing to pay an amount, comparable to the price of Europe-US return flight in business class. What they get for it is a 90-percent chance to cross 200km of sea in a crowded wreckage. Remember also that these people cannot just save this money from their paycheck over a few months, for many of them it amounts to years' of savings. This should remind us what scale of human suffering is out there behind our borders, how desperate are refugees, and what is the role of the smugglers.

This is not to say that the smugglers should not be blamed at all. They still must treat their "customers" in a humane manner. They should inform the migrants about the dangers and opportunities of the trip. They must keep their promises. Slaughtering selected people because of religion or other reasons is plainly criminal. Smugglers should also follow minimal safety and navigation standards. But these problems can be addressed by training, regulation and oversight of the smuggling industry, not by airstrikes. Or even better—by opening a regular ferry line that adheres to the accepted safety rules.

The initiative to improve the border patrolling and crack down the human trafficking in African countries is more like outsourcing the border guarding jobs further away to forces with more dubious human rights record than the European ones. It will not help with the underlying problems, and it will increase human suffering by leaving hundreds of thousands in a desperate situation without the best option to escape they have had up to now. To really address the root cause would mean to ameliorate world inequality, and to pacify Middle-East. This is far beyond what EU (or anyone else) can realistically hope. Unfortunately, the simple and realistic alternative—open the borders to substantially more refugees—will enjoy very little popular support.

So, dear politicians, I understand very well that tackling the root of the problem is simply a fantasy. I also know that the voters do not let you to take any available steps either. But you still can use the right words: Our response will be to build a stronger fence. Because suffering further from our borders is not our problem.

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