Newsflash: the refugee crisis is worsening.
Did you think it was over? Why? Because I've stopped writing detailed personal accounts of the death and devastation daily? Because my Facebook and Instagram posts of the grave realities of Syrians, Afghans, and Iraqis on Lesvos have been replaced by snapshots of me giving talks to students about environmentalism, eating vegan delights as I wander city streets, celebrating marriages with dear friends? Yes, my heavy heart and preoccupied mind have indeed returned to the United States – though I am headed back to Lesvos, Greece the week after next (stay tuned, friends, and support or come if you are able!) – but NOTHING about the situation disappearing or deescalating could be further from the truth.
Another boat sunk just off the Mediterranean coast yesterday. 14 people are dead; 7 children perished. This veritable tragedy seems to have been cast off as minimal collateral damage in the larger framework of a massively complex global crisis. THAT IS PLAIN WRONG! Human beings are dying every day, as hundreds of thousands risk navigating a perilous, albeit short sea passage from Turkey to Greece… yet little attention is paid.
What will compel the world to act? Leaders sit on the sidelines as death tolls rise and masses continue to flee their homelands. Will anything concrete come of this summit in Malta to discuss the migrant crisis? I want to be optimistic, of course, but thus far, see nothing more than rhetoric.
It was initially expected that the flow of refugees from Turkey to Greece would decrease significantly due to the harsh winter cold and rains, but that has not proven to be the case. The UN is now estimating that 600,000 will make the crossing in the next four months, despite the worst of weather conditions, nearly doubling the 650,000 total that has reached Greek soil this year.
218,394 refugees arrived on European shores last month. Can you fathom that quantity of human beings literally washing up on rocky coastlines in shoddy rubber dinghies? Or, if not so 'lucky,' sinking while making the harrowing crossing and praying to be rescued from freezing cold waters by an underequipped coastguard? Nearly a quarter of a million people risked their lives, gave up their possessions, left behind their homes, and abandoned the culture they know to spend life savings on illegal sea travel to an unknown continent with foreign languages and customs where the new arrivals are unwanted by citizens and government alike.
Refugees are forced to pay Turkish smugglers between 1,100 and 2,200 dollars for a single seat on an overpacked rubber boat – with a used motor, often inadequate gasoline supply, and no captain – which, in the best of worlds, is guaranteed to fill with freezing water on the minimum two-hour journey to the Greek island only six kilometers away, though often fails and strands the 40 or 50 people aboard at sea for 5 or 8 or 13 hours as they fight the currents by hand with paddles, if the boat does not sink or capsize, resulting in a coast guard rescue, which is often too late to save lives. I would like to add that I (or you!) could make the same journey in a large, safe, dry ferry for about 30 dollars – or even rent a private speedboat for less than the cost of one dinghy passage. Why then would anyone choose the dangerous option? Take the example of Syrian refugees: in Turkey, they are classified as 'guests,' but once arriving on Greek shores are eligible for official refugee status, suspension of deportation, and all else that is desired/required in establishing a new life away from the problems of their home country.
The UN just put out October's unprecedented numbers, a new record, topping September's 172,843. One month's arrivals match that of the entire 2014 calendar year, an estimated 219,000. There are 60 million refugees and displaced people today, more than at any other point in history, fleeing in numbers not experienced since the Second World War. Europe is seeing the largest influx in migration ever. This crisis is of a magnitude and severity the world has never before seen – and there are no signs it will cease. A recent New York Times piece claims that this is just the beginning, as people in nations all around the region (and some as far as Southern Africa, even Haiti) hear success stories, see real possibility, and join the newly-proven migration route to European soil. More than sixty percent of the startling arrival numbers are Syrian, followed by Afghan and Iraqi, the remainder a mix from Somalia, Eritrea, South Sudan, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Yemen, as well as Morocco, Mali, Senegal, Guinea – to name some of the nationalities I encountered while on Lesvos.
In the face of poverty and economic struggles, ethnic and religious persecution, desertification and drought, war and violence, all imposed by states and terror groups, people see zero future and want to flee – now setting sights on a viable path to Europe and flocking en masse from countless afflicted nations.
As the numbers of refugees and migrants rise, so too do fatalities, many of which could be preventable through simple, relatively inexpensive sea-securing measures. As the numbers of refugees and migrants rise, so too does the severity of the root causes that compel people to flee, specifically stemming from ISIS, Assad, and extremism. As the numbers of refugees and migrants rise, so too does the economic, social, and physical burden on European nations faced with soon-to-be millions of new arrivals, particularly upon a struggling Greece which is the primarily port of entry. I do not have an answer to this tragic crisis (though I must say that I have developed a few solid ideas through firsthand experience, diverse research, and in depth conversations), but we can neither allow ourselves as fellow humankind, nor governments worldwide to normalize or turn a blind eye on this catastrophe. Remain vigilant, support relief efforts, pressure elected officials, speak out, donate goods, give money, volunteer your time, send prayers, and love wholeheartedly.