As the Mediterranean Refugee Crisis Endures, International Morality Ebbs

Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson (left) speaks to journalists at a press stakeout following the High-Level Event on "Strengthening Cooperation on Migration and Refugee Movements in the Perspective of the New Development Agenda".By Arlene ChangNEW YORK, Oct 1 2015 (IPS)As the world suffers its biggest upheaval of human mobility, with 60 million people forced to desert their homes or countries due to persecution, armed conflicts, starvation and hunger that are a veritable danger to their lives, the response from the international community has been rather laggard. Rolling disasters like in Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Iraq, Ukraine, Libya and Yemen, the Boko Haram in Nigeria, the 40-year old war in Somalia and the ethno-religious infighting in the Central African Republic, have all added push to the global migration crisis. These huge transient flows of humanity have been a challenge some politicians have met and others have disregarded, aggravating the crisis.Some central and Eastern Europe countries have even gone ahead to say, “They will take everybody ‘as long as they are Christians’”.Earlier this week, Peter Sutherland, U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary General on Migration and Development said, “Refugees under the 1951 Convention have particular rights… (However) ‘economic migrants’ is now a description that’s being commonly used.”He pointed out that many migrants could be escaping for reasons of starvation, economic catastrophe or the collapse of a feeding system. “Are we not going to have a more nuanced expression of where we stand morally in terms of our values than saying, we’re going to send them home?” he asked.Director general of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), William L. Swing, agreed. “There is greater anti-migrant sentiment than at any time in memory and it’s very widespread and increasing. We’re also in a period in which there is a vacuum of leadership, political courage. There is a serious erosion of international moral authority.”Sutherland reminded hostile countries to bear in mind that the Mediterranean migration crisis is an international responsibility. “We’ve had it before…Ironically…we’ve had it in regard to 1956 in Hungary – and 200,000 people being accommodated within jig time,” Sutherland said.Sutherland and Swing were addressing an audience attending ‘A Global Response to the Mediterranean Migration Crisis’, an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations.Under the latest plan, only 120,000 migrants will be resettled, much less than the total number of people seeking asylum. Member states like Hungary and Croatia are building fences to stop travelers, demonstrating division within the EU on how to respond to the humanitarian crisis. The divide threatens to “undermine Europe’s tradition of open borders and free movement of people,” Edward Alden, CFR’s Bernard L. Schwartz Senior Fellow, said.Hungary, a gateway to many prosperous European countries, sealed its border with Serbia on Sep. 15, in a bid to keep refugees out, prompting even U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to express concern over its handling of the refugee influx in a meeting with Hungarian President Janos Ader on Sep. 26.“Why should Greece and Italy carry the enormous burden because they happen to be the place where the migrants and refugees land? Is there some sort of new world of international morality, which defines proximity as creating responsibility? Why should Turkey have 1.7 million? Or why should Lebanon have one quarter of its entire population? Or Jordan? Why should they carry it all?” Sutherland asked.Even as the world today has 60 million migrants in flux, the United Nations is not witnessing a loosening of purse strings. This prompted Secretary General Ban to comment on the poor state of empathy in the world.Speaking at the opening session of the high-level debate of the U.N. General Assembly Monday, Ban Ki-moon told delegates that a 100 million people require immediate humanitarian assistance, pointing out that at least 60 million people have been forced to flee their homes or their countries. But, the U.N.’s need for 20 billion dollars this year dwarfs funding received. The 20 billion dollars requirement is six times the level of funding needed a decade ago.“We are not receiving enough money to save enough lives. We have about half of what we need to help the people of Iraq, South Sudan and Yemen – and just a third for Syria,” he said Monday.In Yemen, 21 million people – 80 per cent of the population – need humanitarian assistance and the U.N.’s response plan for Ukraine is just 39 per cent funded. The appeal for Gambia, where one in four children suffers from stunting, has been met with silence.With the migration crisis and continuing global strife, it is likely that humankind will sustain its oldest poverty reduction strategy, making it unlikely that the situation will abate any time soon.Swing and Sutherland said that only a reform in international migration policies would help.“Europe should immediately define new policies. Those new policies should allow for example, humanitarian visas – so should the United States. Humanitarian visas, family reunion visas, short term visas. There are whole other ways that you can facilitate terrible events,” Sutherland said, even as he talked about the handicap of governments to be self-motivated in changing policy.“The dreadful photograph of the body on the beach brings within days an increase in the number of people that some countries have agreed to take as refugees. A photograph did it. Are they idiots? Do they not know that 3,000 are dying every year, as they have been for years – with may of them children and women. That should have elicited the policy response, not the photograph of a terrible dead body on the beach.”Swing advocated for migration policies that were more desirable and a change in the “toxic, poisonous” public narrative on migration.“Most of our Nobel prize winners weren’t born in the U.S. Forty per cent of all patent applications come from people who were not born in the U.S., and many other countries have the same spirit – a tone that is historically, overwhelmingly positive. We’ve got to get back to a historically correct narrative,” he said, adding, “A ‘high road policy’ – multiple entry visas, dual nationalities, portable social security benefits…all kinds of things if we can be little smarter in how we deal with it.”“The problem in my mind is the fundamental value system we believe in,” Sutherland said. “We have to create countries that value lives equally.” (END)