Refugee crisis: We must act

Yesterday morning’s newspapers greeted us with the shocking image of three-year old Aylan who’s body was washed assure after the inflatable boat he his five year old brother Galip, his mother Rihan and father Abdullah Kurdi and 19 others were in sank off the coast of Turkey whilst they tried to get to the Greek island of Kos. Of this one family, only Abdullah Krurdi survived, along with eight others.

It has been hard to avoid the news of the ‘European Migrant Crisis’ however this isn’t the sudden influx the media might portray. The media is quick to brandish these people as non-genuine refugees. In fact, they’ve even had the debate of what to refer to them as. Migrants? Asylum seekers? Refugees? You just need to look at where they are coming from and what they are fleeing to see that they are not part of natural economic migration.

These are people fleeing war-torn countries like Libya, Syria and Afghanistan, and immense poverty from places like Somalia. These are people who have nothing left to lose except their own lives.

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Imagine just for one moment the desperation they must experience to risk their own lives in the hope – just the hope – of a safer future. To cram yourself and your family into a small, unstable boat to cross the Mediterranean Sea, or to walk through dangerous territory to try and get somewhere safer. Not knowing if you’d make it. Not knowing if you will just be sent back. Not knowing if you will live through the night.

With the bulk of these refugees coming from Libya and Syria, I can’t help but think back to when Britain and others intervened in Libya and took action which assisted in the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi, to then leave this fragile nation eventually divided into factions in the centre of a civil war.

Or when Britain voted against taking action in Syria, still in the shadow of the Iraq war, which left Syria torn between President Assad’s regime, accused of using chemical weapons on its own people, and the militant group Islamic State. I can’t help but feel our inaction has led to the crisis we now see.

Rather than arguing among ourselves in Europe about who should take these refugees, whether the country they land in should process them rather than allowing them to pass through to countries like Germany who are open to assisting. Rather  than calling for a unified policy which would divide the refugees up among EU member states like they are assets, we should be doing all we can to prevent these deaths, assist in the requirements of these refugees and bring about an end to the turmoil in these nations.

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Published author Rhys Hughes yesterday wrote on Facebook: ‘There is a thing called “moral duty” and it is higher than politics and economics and self-interest. It is our MORAL DUTY to accept refugees. This isn’t something that can be negotiated. This isn’t something for which excuses can be made. Whether we have a right-wing or left-wing government has nothing to do with the issue. Whether our economy is growing or shrinking is besides the point. Whether we remain in the EU or not is totally irrelevant. This is our MORAL DUTY. It’s very very clear. If we shirk our moral duty we are cowards.’

I couldn’t agree more. In fact I think we have already shirked our moral responsibilities as a leading player on the global stage. Thinking back to the General Election, Ed Miliband boasted that he had stood up to Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama in voting against action in Syria.

We pulled out of Afghanistan. We made a half arsed job in Libya. We have allowed these problems which have caused such desperation in others. This desperation is estimated to have caused 107,500 people to flee their homes and their countries. This desperation has seen 1,200 people die off the coast of Italy when five boats sank.

In just the last year, 3,072 people are estimated to have died in the Mediterranean Sea alone.

Migrant 6

Reacting to the images of three-year old Aylan, Cameron said Britain would ‘fulfill it’s moral responsibility’. This came the day after he had stated that taking ‘more and more people’ was not the simple answer to the current ‘migrant crisis’.

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An online petition calling on the UK to accept more refugees has made it past the 100,000 signature mark – enough for it to be discussed in Parliament. What frustrated me so much that I felt I had to write my opinion was the news stating yesterday morning that because The Sun newspaper had printed the picture of Aylan it would now shift public opinion.

Why do we need to wait for a newspaper to shock us into action when this has been going on for well over a year? Why does Britain thinks it’s OK to take a back seat and let mainland Europe divide the refugees up? Why did we as a world leader allow things to get this bad?

Yes, we need long-term solutions which lie in peace and stability in the region, but this won’t help those waiting to cross the sea, stuck in refugee camps in Hungary, Austria, France, Bulgaria and Croatia.

It’s time we took some decisive action so no more children, no more innocent people have to risk death in order to pursue the hope of safety.