On the news recently, I heard that Italian coastguard was trying to find and save 1,000 migrants in difficulty on the Mediterranean Sea (over 2,000 were subsequently rescued). In the same week, 300 migrants travelling in dinghies died when they ran into stormy weather after leaving Libya. According to the UNHCR, over 3,500 people died attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe in 2014.
More than 200,000 people were rescued during the same period, many pulled from the sea as a result of an Italian operation known as Mare Nostrum. This operation was launched in October 2013 in response to a tragedy near Lampedusa in which 366 people died. It ended when the governments of EU member states voted to stop it, because they believed that the prospect of being saved was encouraging an ever increasing number of people to make the perilous journey to the European mainland.
Migration and the exodus of people from the horrors of war, persecution, hunger are not new issues. I don’t claim to be particularly knowledgeable about all the issues surrounding this highly charged, political topic. However, I do know that many politicians and political parties have a disgraceful and disgusting attitude to these most vulnerable of people, reducing them to numbers and dehumanising them in the process.
The UK Coalition Government’s commitment to reduce the number of immigrants in the UK from the hundreds to the tens of thousands was a cheap attempt to capitalise on the ignorance and fear of a large proportion of the population, who believe the number of immigrants in the country to be far greater than it actually is. And, the closer we get to the UK general election, the more likely it is that the numbers don’t add up!
Almost without exception, the press can’t get enough of stories about large numbers of immigrants ‘taking our jobs’ and ‘draining our resources’. Very rarely are distinctions made between asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants. There is some honest coverage, notably in the Guardian, where the numbers start to reveal themselves as human beings. Human beings like Moaaz, Majd, Rasha, Kinan and Khalid – friends who fled war-torn Syria on a perilous trip to reach Europe. They filmed their journey which you can watch here.
Giving the unheard ‘numbers’ a voice
Poet Holly McNish has written a few hard-hitting poems about immigration, including Ocean Floor which is specifically about the plight of desperate people who take to the sea in search of a better life. Have a listen here.
Joan Baez recorded a heartbreaking version of ‘Deportees’, about migrant Mexican workers dying in a plane crash while being deported from the US after their work contracts had expired. The media of the time (particularly the New York Times) dehumanised the tragedy with a dismissive reference to 28 deportees dying in the crash whilst naming the crew members who died. Listen here.
Helping asylum seekers
I’ll end on a positive note.
There are many people and organisations providing support and hope to asylum seekers who reach our country. United Glasgow Football Club was formed in 2011 to provide a point of access to regular, structured football for those who would usually find themselves excluded; financially or by discrimination. It was formed primarily to help refugees and asylum seekers, and anti-discrimination and financial inclusion are the club’s guiding principles. By keeping costs to a minimum, and not charging players for games or training, the club brings together individuals from communities who otherwise may not have met through a shared love of football. Find out more about United Glasgow FC and the ethos it promotes by watching the following films.