For many, the decision to migrate across the Mediterranean is no decision at all, it’s their last hope, a final attempt to flee persecution, torture or even death. No one would willingly choose to embark on this journey, often described as worse than hell, if it wasn’t a life-threatening situation.
Between 2015 and 2017, more than 22,500 migrants have reportedly died or disappeared while attempting to cross the Mediterranean, according to a study by the International Organisation for Migration.
Migrants going through Libya to Europe face impossible choices: getting on a boat is very risky, many die before they reach the European coast or a rescue ship. Remaining in Libya, whether in detention centres run by the administration or a criminal organisation, exposes them to unbelievable levels of violence and exploitation.
The world was slowed to a standstill as fear of COVID-19 spread across the continents, however in Libya, the detentions are scarier than any virus.
The migrants embarking on this journey make the decision to either reach Europe or die.
After surviving detention centres in Libya, the final leg of their journey begins, crossing the Mediterranean. The asylum seekers however know that this passageway could be the last key to unlocking their dreams of freedom or the final nail in their coffin.
Packed on flimsy boats, smugglers only promise to put them at sea and nothing else, it’s either you die at sea or you don’t, they do not care.
However, we need to be better. We need to care.
Their stories and journeys should matter to us, after beating the odds and surviving situations worse than hell, regardless of what is legally necessary, what is morally necessary as Maltese citizens is to offer the vulnerable a safe place to stay. Instead, the Maltese government chucked over 400 migrants on Captain Morgan tourist boats, boats which are not designed to brave the open seas and strong winds.
Reports of migrants going on hunger strikes and attempting suicide with no access to resources that they are legally entitled to should have Maltese people out there protesting for the rights of these migrants. However, the indifference from a vocal section of the Maltese public speaks volumes. Whilst some even commenting that these people should ‘go back to their country’ or to ‘let them drown’ as they brought this upon themselves.
Pope Francis says that ‘migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity.’
These are human lives we’re dealing with not just numbers on a screen, a statistic. We not only have the opportunity, but a duty to look at these people, not as migrants, asylum seekers or refugees but as human beings in need of our help.
They are not a means of blackmailing the European Union for relocation agreements. The responsibility of the EU does not remove or deplete the responsibility we have in protecting and defending the rights of these people stuck out at sea.
With media attention being almost exclusively focused on the pandemic and the recent murder of George Floyd, other problems including the rights of these asylum seekers are being ignored.
The truth is this, the pandemic will be over at some point, but migration will not, and vulnerable people will continue to risk their lives in search of a better home and a possibility of a future.
Written by: Lara Mohnani