How much for a spot on a rubber raft and a slim chance at a better life?

September 2, 2015
A migrant child is brought onto the Migrant Offshore Aid Station ship MV Phoenix after being rescued from an overloaded wooden boat 10.5 miles off the coast of Libya

A migrant child is brought onto the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) ship MV Phoenix after being rescued from an overloaded wooden boat 10.5 miles (16 km) off the coast of Libya, August 6, 2015. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

This summer a quarter of a million people fled across the Mediterranean by small ships and rafts. Lured by smugglers and forced onto discarded fishing boats, the migrants are directed to head north and call for help when they are past Libya’s Bouri oil fields and into international shipping lanes.

Citizens of Syria, Eritrea, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Gambia, Somalia, Bangladesh and dozens of other countries simply hope they won’t die as they head north in the dark. Some families buy pool floats to keep their children alive, some pay extra to sit on top, while others are crushed below, used as human ballast.

For those who can’t afford passage on the Egyptian or Tunisian-sourced fishing boats, there are homemade rubber rafts. Plywood floors often cut through the rubberized canvas, dumping the passengers into the ocean a few miles from shore. The migrants subject themselves to this life-threatening journey because there is no safe way out of their predicament. They risk their lives at sea and they know they will also run the gauntlet of angry southern European nations if they do make it to land.

We are seeing the globalization of borders, where people view the entire world as a place to choose where to pursue a better life. Most people may not agree with this view, but the migrant crisis is proving that governments are powerless to stop it.

The EU could easily use their resources to pre-process, organize, and fly these people to the regions that want them, but it instead blames the migrants, not the system that kills them. The deaths cause public outrage, which then sparks rescues, which then creates a backlash when the new arrivals end up stressing Europe’s social and police systems. The politicians then harden their stance, creating barriers until more deaths are caused by adaptive but cruel smugglers, and the cycle begins again.

Simply put, Europe has not, will not and cannot stop the flow of humans seeking a better life. So they should deal with the situation: humanely, legally and quickly.

The boats are the most visible, most desperate way for refugees to reach Europe. Panicked in the open water, many passengers surge to one side when they see help, and flip their crafts — drowning those below and those who can’t swim. Their screams are the soundtrack of the daily rescues in the Mediterranean.

The website, which I publish, has documented this horror. The photos of drowned children are particularly gruesome.

The political argument that the drownings are a deterrent to would-be migrants is false. They are not. In fact, it is surprising that more of the 59 million displaced people around the world — as well the combined populations of Africa and the Middle East — aren’t heading for Europe.

The movement of humans from bad things to better things starts in Africa and the Middle East. This year, according to the UNHCR, 63 percent of all migrants to Europe are Syrian. The war in and around Syria has displaced 9 million people, with a third of those people seeking food and shelter outside of Syria. Since the war began in March 2011, only 150,000 have actually been allowed inside Europe.

News readers were shocked to see hundreds of migrant drownings in the early part of this year. But now that the Italian, Irish, Swedish and British navies and private groups like the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) have begun patrolling the Mediterranean, rescue at sea has become more common.

MOAS (where I am an advisor) uses an Alaskan fishing boat and professional search and rescue teams, along with the doctors from Medecins Sans Frontieres, to save migrants at risk of drowning. The nonprofit was created by Christopher and Regina Catrambone in 2014, back when 30 to 40 percent of the rescues were carried out by large commercial ships, small coast guard vessels or navy leviathans. MOAS exists only to rescue people in distress at sea. So far it has saved over 10,000 men, women and children.

MOAS flies Schiebel S-100 camcopter drones inside Libyan airspace so that it can identify migrants in crisis and reach them early. It and others are part of a coordinated maritime rescue campaign that is reminiscent of the 1979 Vietnamese boat crisis after the fall of Saigon, or even the rescue at Dunkirk.

So far in 2015 more than 250,000 people have reached Europe by sea, and more than 2000 have drowned in the attempt. This mass floating movement exists because Europe has so far refused to properly address the massive influx of people that are arriving at the EU’s borders.

According to polls, around 80 percent of southern Europe, which bears the brunt of migration, does not want these newcomers. Northern Europe is more welcoming, with numbers about half that. Voters’ views on the crisis have shaped the “get tough” policy of Europe, which can be seen in images of tear-gassed families lunging through razor wire in Macedonia, migrants blocked from trains in Budapest or living in grim shanties like “The Jungle” outside Calais.

If these refugees are not accepted into the tiny number of asylum slots in Europe, they have nowhere to go in a system that considers them to be an “invasion” and the Mediterranean a medieval-style moat. It’s time to change the solution, because the problem has remained resolutely the same and is rapidly increasing. Twice as many migrants have entered Europe in the first six months of 2015 than during the entire year of 2014.

Unlike America, Europe is not used to migration, so some nations prefer to die slowly from within rather than embrace the growth this movement would bring. The countries that most staunchly oppose new settlers have grim statistics. The populations of Hungary, Latvia, Ukraine, Bulgaria and many others are shrinking and getting older. Some countries, like Spain, have barely measurable growth rates. Italy, with similarly anemic population growth, has hill villages that welcome migrants to shore up the economy and inhabit empty homes.

Today’s migrant situation is reminiscent of 70 years ago, when millions of Europeans sailed on boats to America, Australia and Canada. Every wave of immigration creates fear and resentment, but ultimately the migrants form a new version of the country they came to.

This week, after the discovery of 71 dead migrants dead in a meat truck in Austria and the drowning of babies off the Libyan coast, we finally saw world leaders try a different tact. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon made a rare personal appeal for “compassion and humanity.” German leader Angela Merkel defended migrants by saying “The freedom of movement is one of Europe’s basic principles.” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls proclaimed: “The responsibility of us all is to make sure the right to asylum … is respected everywhere. One cannot avoid it with barbed wire.”

Or destroy it with sinking boats.




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So, Mr Pelton, you want to “fly these people to the regions that want them”.

Are there such regions? If so, where? And why do they want these displaced people? Germany is in Northern Europe: the Germans in some towns are rioting. The Swedes also have got sick of immigrants that, rather than integrate, impose the very culture on their communities that caused them ti emigrate. Only Iceland has given a cry of welcome: is that because they have no immigrants from Africa and the Middle East yet?

The lips are silent that once cried
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The lamp went out. The welcome’s gone. Instead its razor wire, tear gas and baton charges.
There is no asylum offered. Europe’s full. And so’s America.

What once was offered, colonialism, is rejected.
The countries of these people’s origin are unable to develop their own economies.
Only China offers trains and roads and other aid – with strings like chains.

If we want to help, then we must – and immediately – try to develop the source countries, grow the economies, teach the people to become businesspeople. And send home these brave people who have risked death crossing seas and deserts. They are brave and resourceful: exactly the sort of people to make their home economies grow. And very likely, they will need help to topple the kleptocrats who rule their countries.

Posted by Peter_Hirsch | Report as abusive

I agree, Europeans should embrace the migrants. AFter all, they don’t riot or burn cars (France, UK). They always learn the language and become part of the host country, not trying to change the host country to follow their ways. (-sarcasm)

Posted by UgoneHearMe | Report as abusive

“So they should deal with the situation: humanely, legally and quickly”.

In this process, finding out what their occupation is would be of benefit to the country that is accepting them. I think there are alot of skilled workers coming from countries like Syria that could benefit the economic system that European countries have in place.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see the data collected show that most of these migrants are highly educated and have relevant work experience.

Posted by Hassan2015 | Report as abusive

Islam is literally chasing its own people into the sea. The real problem is there, and has to be addressed there. In the muslim world.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

EU could easily stop this by invading Libya properly and stopped the boats from leaving shore. Everyone should now recognize that dictators are better than chaos.

Also, how many of the refugees does Mr. Pelton intend to house in his guest room. Hell, I bet several families could live in his backyard with a few more in front.

Posted by MiniverCheevey | Report as abusive

While the author is involved in saving lives upon the sea, ultimately, he gets to go home to North America and doesn’t have to support the new immigrants. Compassion from afar is easy, and I won’t criticize Europeans for how they choose to deal or not deal with an overwhelming problem that originates outside of Europe.

Posted by Squeamish | Report as abusive

This is nothing more than a well-planned invasion by the muslim world that we are going to pay dearly for in the very near future. Too many bleeding heart liberals are in control of the rest of us and hold our fate in their grimy and blood-stained hands.

Posted by Davido1 | Report as abusive

It is very sad to see a baby washed up on the beach. But we killed literally tens of thousands of children in Iraq. That was before the days of twitter. The Bush/Cheney de-stabilisation of the middle east will go down in history as one of the dumbest and costliest mistakes of all time.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Mr. Pelton,
Why don’t practice what you preach and bring a half a dozen of these “migrants” into your home and feed and clothe them? Most likely because you left wing loons want others, namely tax payers to pick up the tab for your “altruism.”

Posted by Lowell_Thinks | Report as abusive

What has Saudi Arabia (one of the richest countries in the world) done for fellow muslims lately? How many rescue boats does Dubai operate? They have freighters in the Med. And oil tankers. Vessels that make the princes more money. But how about rescue boats for fellow muslims? Guesses as to numbers?

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

The fact that the presumed asylum seekers refuse to stay where they arrive from their particular regions, such as in Turkey, Greece, Italy, etc… and demand that Europe sends them to wherever they wish to go, at the cost of Eueopean tax payers, shows that these are not asylum seekers bu economic migrants who want to bypass all the legal means and go to the front of the line. Unfortunately, people like the writer choose to pretend that these people should be allowed and in the process promotes the failure of the current policies. The author forgets that the US send back many haitians who wanted to get to the US by any means. Europe can do the same. In addition, to compare what is going on with 70 years ago is quite disingenuous. We now are facing not just a mass of people who are demanding to be transported to their place of choice, that they come from a region loaded with various groups of terrorists, many of whom, would love to wreak havoc in Europe with terror attacks, people who pick and choose which rules they want to follow. What if they want to come to the US instead? Should Americans now willingly and happily take on these in comers? The author is typical of people whose good intentions leave others to pay for them.

Posted by ofilha | Report as abusive

It’s a disaster for Europe. How many of them are terrorists or sympathetic to Islamic extremists? Many. How many of them are ISIS members? I bet a lot. Illegal border crossings must be stopped.

Posted by Cleveland2012 | Report as abusive

Watching SKY news last night and the presenter was speaking with an official in Hungary. His comment was most of these people have smart phone ETC and were not real asylum seekers. Presenters comments just because they have modern phones does not mean there not running for there lives. To which he replied winter is coming and the boats will stop but next year instead of 800 thousand we will have 2 million. My point is if these are mainly economic migrants then you can expect millions in the next few years regardless of the situation in Syria. So at what point do the EU nations say no more. Or do we think with our hearts and just take more and more and more.

Posted by Moties001 | Report as abusive

It seems to me Mr.Pelton that you and your organization are facilitating this mass movement of people and working hand in hand with the people smugglers.

Posted by zac48 | Report as abusive

They do not have to go to Europe. It is perfectly understandable that small European countries – and all European countries are small – do not and should not be invaded by endless waves of migrants of unknown character. Many migrants may be potential terrorists. These small countries – just like the small boats many migrants are coming on – are in danger of being swamped by these alien hordes. Saudi Arabia and Turkey are causing a lot of the problems in Syria – send the migrants there or to other Asian or Muslim countries. Europe must defend its cultural heritage and not be drowned in alien influxes.

Posted by goslow | Report as abusive

For every child washed up on a beach, we killed a hundred such children in Iraq, in air raids and guided missile attacks. The State Department puts the official civilian death toll in “Operation Iraqi Freedom” at 176,000. Most of the dead children never appeared on Twitter, because there was no twitter in 2003. And they buried under rubble anyway. America has so much blood on its hands and there are people (sick people) who would vote for republicans AGAIN.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

I think, if you are fleeing to escape war, and you reach a place of peace, you are thankful to have gotten there, and ready to make your way in harmony with the people and government of that place.

Posted by NBE | Report as abusive

There are two problems with immigration from the Near East. First if there is no labor shortage the immigration will hurt the existing population. At times of scarce labor immigration adds the military and cultural strength of a nation. The second problem is the Mid-East is the home of ideology s that say they are to be spread by the sward and is both intolerant and anti-democratic. The immigrants may be fleeing the effects but do not see the ideology as a big cause.

Posted by SamuelReich | Report as abusive

How lucky you are to be able to comment on these events. The mainstream media in Poland have left us no such a possibility.

Posted by WicurP | Report as abusive

It took Europe 1,500 years to recover from the last middle eastern religion that imposed itself there. Millions of pointless deaths because of the popes and their ideology and kings over the years. Middle Eastern religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam)… need to stay in the middle east.

People should be welcome and fed anywhere. But they should have to check their ideology and religion at the door.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Sealing off the main exit points on the Turkish and Libyan coasts is not a difficult thing to do. Infiltrating and neutralizing the smugglers’ networks should be a priority for European security apparatus.

Posted by GetReel | Report as abusive