Another day, another disaster, yet they still come. By “they” I mean the tens of thousands of illegal immigrants sailing across the Mediterranean for Europe.
Not all of them make it. Too many drown in the attempt. It doesn’t have to be this way.
The latest tragedy occurred Wednesday when the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) revealed that upwards of 300 souls perished in frigid temperatures after their inflatable rafts sank beneath them as they tried to cross from North Africa.The information came to light after nine survivors were landed on the Italian island of Lampedusa. They were among those who had left the Libyan capital Tripoli on Saturday in four rubber dinghies.
Carlotta Sami, a spokeswoman for the UNHCR, said the victims had been “swallowed up by the waves,” with the youngest a child of 12.
“This is a tragedy on an enormous scale and a stark reminder that more lives could be lost if those seeking safety are left at the mercy of the sea,” Mr Cochetel said in a statement.
The story doesn’t end there. It’s only the beginning. The UNHCR says almost 3,500 people died attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe in 2014, making it the world’s most dangerous sea crossing for migrants. More than 200,000 people were rescued during the same period.
Here are the UNHCR’s own estimates of the human tide coming ashore in Europe.
More than 75,000 refugees and migrants arrived in Italy, Greece, Spain and Malta by sea in the first half of 2014 – 25 per cent more than the 60,000 who made the same journey in the whole of 2013, and over three times the 22,500 who arrived in all of 2012.
Italy received the greatest number of arrivals (63,884), followed by Greece (10,080), Spain (1,000) and Malta (227). A further 21,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in Italy since 1 July. The largest numbers came from Eritrea, Syria and Mali. Most left from North Africa, and principally Libya, with their method of travel becoming more sophisticated, more organised and using larger craft.
Like this. Last December the Italian coastguard said they narrowly averted a “massacre” after a cargo ship was abandoned off the southern coast of Italy with more than 900 Syrian refugees on board.
Officers said their vessel’s engines had been locked and its steering set on a course which would have seen it run aground somewhere along Italy’s Puglia coastal region.
And this. Another cargo ship was found 48-hours later abandoned by its crew off Italy with over 300 migrants on board, mostly from Syria. The Italian navy took control of the ageing Sierra Leone-flagged ship, the Ezadeen, and steered it to the port of Corigliano Calabro.
How do we stop such madness? We just say no.
If illegal immigrants knew that simply arriving on European soil would be no guarantee of staying, would they still risk it? If people smugglers also knew that, would they be able to extort huge amounts of money from the desperately vulnerable in the vain attempt to try? Australia provides an example of how Europe’s expensive, public display of overt compassion is killing the very people it is trying to help.
Under the current coalition government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott, the flow of refugees seeking to enter Australia by boat has stopped. Abbott’s government tows any vessel found straight back to where it started from. In most cases that is Indonesia. The policy of immediate return has been well publicised and those who do make it into Australian territorial waters are sent to offshore islands in New Guinea or Nauru for processing.
Australia then uses its famous ‘points based system’ to decide who is a genuine refugee and who is an economic migrant. End of story. The Abbott government went to the September 2013 polls promising to ‘stop the boats’ on the basis that the journey the asylum seekers make is dangerous and controlled by criminal gangs and they have a duty to stop it.
The message was simple but effective. No means no.
By July 2014 there had been zero new arrivals nor deaths at sea for 200 days. Two months later a total of 12 boats containing 383 people had been turned around, in some cases towed by Australian naval vessels, with more disrupted before they set off from places as far away as Sri Lanka.
Abbott knew the scale of the growing problem before he took office.
UNHCR’s Asylum Trends 2013 report said Australia received 24,300 claims for asylum in 2013, making it the eighth largest recipient of asylum seekers in the industrialised world. That figure is about 4% of all applications made globally in 2013. Australian government statistics show that between 2012 and 2013 more than 18,000 people arrived in Australia illegally by sea, compared to 7,300 between 2011 and 2012. By the end of 2014 that number was close to zero.
So a policy of saying no to illegal immigration turned a deluge into a trickle to none at all.
By contrast Europe’s porous borders and unquestioning acceptance of every single person who steps onto its shores claiming asylum is an unmitigated disaster and an example of the law of unintended consequences. By trying to be compassionate, Europe is luring thousands to their death. At the same time it is making human traffickers rich beyond measure.
The problem knows no boundaries. Regard the huge camps outside the French city of Calais, full of migrants from north and sub-Saharan Africa who want to travel to the UK any way they can. Their reasoning is simple. The mayor of Calais has said as much herself.
Last October Natacha Bouchart spoke before a House of Commons select committee and warned that Britain is an ‘El Dorado’ for thousands of migrants flocking to Calais en-route to a land of generous handouts. Blaming the UK for the crisis in the port city, Bouchart said lavish benefits and the prospect of illegal work and accommodation were magnets for immigrants determined to get across the English Channel.
“The weekly benefits of £36 that are given to migrants or asylum seekers is a huge amount for people who have nothing in their lives,” Bouchart said.
“They have no idea about the value of money … But they know from those people who have got through [to Britain] that … they can easily find work, don’t have to declare their work, they can find accommodation and can get some money every week. People who have got through call and say, ‘ … this is El Dorado and we’re staying here’.”
Unlimited access to benefits is not just a draw on the other side of the Mediterranean. Closer to home Serbia is trying to halt a massive human exodus from crossing its border into Hungary, a flow that has triggered alarm in many EU countries. As long as the UK remains within the EU it has to accept the same flow of illegal migrants and economic refugees from elsewhere because the guarantee of unrestricted travel within EU signatory nations is a given.
It doesn’t matter where a migrant starts his or her journey, they know they can eventually make it to the UK as long as they try hard enough. The door is open and they simply walk in, a process that started as far back as 2001 when Labour decided to open up the UK to mass immigration – legal and now increasingly illegal.
This can be stopped by just saying no. Or leaving the EU. Or both. If those on the compassionate, progressive left are truly concerned about the fate of illegal immigrants being lured to their deaths, they would agree.
But I’m not holding my breath. Are you?