Did you get to catch the compelling film Lifeboat, nominated for an Academy Award? If so, you might be wondering, like I was…so what is happening right now in the Mediterranean? If so, read on. (If you didn’t catch the film, check it out here:)
Working in the field of teaching English to speakers of other languages, I’ve had ample opportunity to see one extension of the refugee crisis- What happens when they finally get out of the refugee camps and are placed in another country. Even here, I see bleeding hearts. I see families separated across oceans and across countries waiting years and years to be returned to one another’s arms- if ever. I see way too many people cramped into what looks like any old house, but inside- inside there is no furniture, no running water, no heat, and no one outside seeming to care to help.
This video got me thinking about the other side of the ocean. It got me researching more deeply. And, it got me feeling overcome by that wave of desperation I had when Elijah’s bike accident left us crumpled together on a sidewalk too far to get home with him bleeding out in my arms and me not knowing for sure how to help.
Lifeboat is one snapshot of the desperation and the inclination of the human spirit to plunge seemingly recklessly toward hope. If where they came from is worse, though, then it isn’t so reckless after all.
Out of largely lawless Libya, we see most of these boats emerging. Since 2014, courts haven’t operated in Libya, and the country has been plagued by militia-driven violence and civil unrest. Many diplomatic missions, international organizations, and NGOs withdrew that year, as well.
The Disturbing Result of a Lack of Justice
With their withdrawal an the lack of justice, it has been difficult to obtain accurate numbers about human trafficking of African migrants. Yet there continue to be reports echoing the rescued ones on Lifeboat of their plight of being sold for labor and other exploitative purposes by criminal networks, government officials, and private employers.
According to a UN report based on hundreds of interviews, the “overwhelming majority” of women and older girls who passed through Libya as migrants were gang raped by traffickers or witnessed others being taken away to be abused.
Response to the Rescue Boats
With the situation so dire, you would think that the rescue boats pictured in Lifeboat would be championed. After all, they are part of a solution to a significant global human rights crisis.
At least that is what I thought.
As I researched the story chronologically as boat after boat of the 10 boats that were working in the Mediterranean were stopped from working or detained in a port over trumped up charges. Ports refused to take migrants, so remaining boats had no where to take people. SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) suspended the rescues by their boat Aquarius last fall after what they call “a relentless ongoing political, judicial and administrative campaign backed by several European states”. Since 2018, no boats have been working in the Mediterranean. For more on this, read this.
This route migrants and refugees take to flee Libya to get to Italy is the deadliest route migrants take by sea in the world, says the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). This is even more true with no rescue boats on the sea.
Poor Solution to the Crisis
The European Union’s solution to the crisis was to provide money and technical support to Libya’s broken and reckless government to return migrants to Libya. Where…even the government is trafficking people. According to one migrant in the Human Right’s Watch (HRW) 2019 Report:
This policy slowed migration to Europe, since the makeshift rafts that continue to embark in the night often collapse with the hopeful riders drown in the Mediterranean. Migrants that are caught and returned to Libya have stated that they will continue attempts to cross the sea, despite the danger, due to the unsafe conditions in Libya and Libya’s detention centers.
According to Raphael Shilhav, Oxfam’s EU migration policy adviser, “EU countries are making the Mediterranean a watery graveyard as a matter of deliberate policy.”
“The UN has condemned the agreement as “inhuman” and said “the suffering of migrants detained in Libya is an outrage to the conscience of humanity”. –Aljazeera
Over 40 organizations signed a letter in February stating that they had “allowed themselves to become complicit in the tragedy unfolding before their eyes”.
Even with this policy, during the first 20 days of 2019, 4,883 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea (IOM), with 20% of these being children (HWR’s report).
My experience in working with professionals from all over Europe has been a very mixed feeling toward these migrants and refugees. Individuals from some countries were explaining to me political groups gaining popularity in their country that promoted images of them pushing the black sheep off of a cliff. So similar to propaganda related to the Holocaust.
Organizations Helping Refugees
Yet there are many organizations working in Africa, in Europe, in the United States, and all around the world to address this crisis. You can check out what some of them are doing, and you can be a part of the solution by partnering with them:
Very near where I live is a whole town of refugees. Likely there is one near you. There may even be some in our neighborhoods. We can make a friend. Even one. We can at least pray. We can donate coats and clothes and bedding. Each of us can make a difference. It’s far better than us either sinking into hopelessness over the issue or hardening our hearts like metal toward it. I invite you to please pray with me over what we can do to help.
More Like This
I linked a ton of articles throughout this. Here are some of them:
- Watch Lifeboat
- Human Right’s Watch 2019 Report
- No Rescue Boats Currently in the Mediterranean
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