One year ago, I wrote “At least seven hundred people, maybe 900 or more, were on the 70-foot ship that sank in the Mediterranean on Sunday. Almost all of them died.” Last week, it happened again. Another boat packed with refugees capsized and sank, drowning hundreds of refugees. The U.N. refugee agency reports that
“as many as 500 people may have lost their lives when the large boat went down in the Mediterranean Sea at an unknown location between Libya and Italy. The 41 survivors – 37 men, three women and a three-year-old child – were rescued by a merchant ship and taken to Kalamata, in the Peloponnese peninsula of Greece on April 16.”
As killing continues in Syria, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, refugees continue to flee. And to die. Instead of welcome, they find more and more restrictions on safe passage to places in Europe.
After last week’s deaths, the Globe and Mail editorialized:
“The shorter sea and land routes from western Asia to Europe have become very difficult, thanks to barriers raised by countries to keep migrants and refugees out. That leaves would-be migrants – perhaps 180,000 this year – to take the long, dangerous sea routes, setting out from anarchic, post-Gadhafian Libya, mostly having come from sub-Saharan Africa, far away to the south.”
The European Union deal to deport refugees from Greece to Turkey is one of the factors driving the Mediterranean route:
“A deal that went into effect on March 20 to deport migrants reaching Greece from Turkey has reduced the number of people coming over the Aegean, a perilous voyage that killed around 800 last year. But the policy appears to have prompted smugglers to return to previously abandoned dangerous routes through Libya to Italy — the same path used by the 800 migrants who drowned in an overloaded boat a year ago.”
NATO says the EU deal — which involves deporting refugees from Europe to Turkey, and accepting the same number of certified Syrian refugees from Turkey — is working. Not for Greece, which is ” bearing the brunt of the deal, which involves detaining all asylum seekers arriving in Greece from 20 March onwards, according to this report in the Guardian.
Greece, still staggering under austerity policies imposed by the European Commission and International Monetary Fund, now faces an influx of refugees without resources to support them.
“Its economy has shrunk as much as the United States’ did during the Great Depression, its government has collapsed over and over and over again as a result, and its bailout is in its third iteration — without which it would have been forced out of the euro zone. How bad are things? Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras just touted the fact that his country’s unemployment rate has fallen from 26.5 percent to 24.9 percent…”
Italy, while not as poor as Greece, also remains overburdened:
“The Italian government feels as if it’s been left holding the bag. Matteo Renzi, the Prime Minister, has been trying to persuade the other members of the European Union to join in issuing ‘Eurobonds’ to spread the burden of looking after the migrants, and trying to send many back.”
Meanwhile, refugees keep dying. And getting turned away. The 41 survivors of last week’s disaster? “They are going to be deported,” a Greek police officer told the BBC.
The U.N. refugee agency says:
“UNHCR continues to call for increased regular pathways for the admission of refugees and asylum-seekers to Europe, including resettlement and humanitarian admission programmes, family reunification, private sponsorship and student and work visas for refugees. These will all serve to reduce the demand for people smuggling and dangerous irregular sea journeys.”
The U.S. response? According to official figures, “From October 1, 2010, through October 31, 2015, the United States admitted a total of 2,070 Syrian refugees. The Obama Administration previously announced that it would admit at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in FY2016.” April 1 is the halfway point for FY2016 — and by that date, only 1,300 Syrian refugees had been admitted, according to CNN.
So let me repeat the appeal I made last year: Tell our government to admit refugees.
We have the capacity to handle hundreds of thousands of refugees As Amanda Taub writes in Vox:
“This country already has a large, expertly staffed refugee resettlement program that could handle the logistics of resettling Syrians, and a host of private charities that are experienced in helping refugees settle and integrate into communities across the country that could assist them when they arrive. We are the richest country on Earth, and opening our borders to more immigration would help this country to grow even richer. There is no serious argument against taking in more people.”
Here are the addresses for President Barack Obama, Governor Mark Dayton, Senators Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, and Minnesota’s congressional delegation. Write today!
List of official addresses (you may want to copy these or bookmark this page)
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Governor Mark Dayton
116 Veterans Service Building
20 W 12th Street
St. Paul, MN 55155
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