"Europe is declaring war on smugglers" the EU's top migration official said last month. As the Mediterranean fills with boats and the bodies of migrants from Africa and the Arab world, it is inopportune language like this underlines how grave a situation we find ourselves in and how far away a humane solution seems.
More than 3,200 refugees trying to migrate from their troubled homelands into Europe died in 2014 and already, in 2015, the death toll tops 1,500. The EU's plans to address the tragedy are to double funding for border surveillance and search and rescue missions. Rescue, while it can save migrants from immediate death in choppy waters and horrid, claustrophobic conditions in leaky boats, does not mean anyone is being saved. Instead, women, men, and children fleeing nations impoverished by war, corruption and weak government like Syria, Somalia, Libya, Nigeria, and the DRC find themselves at the end of their ropes, hours into a journey from despair only to find themselves being sent back to the impossible, dangerous living conditions from which they though they had escaped.
The sight of western countries shirking a duty of care to these people belies the West's role in creating this crisis in the first place. The wars from which individuals are fleeing are man-made, supported by an influx of weapons from international partners, and exacerbated by shortsighted interventions in pursuit of a change in a regime that in the long term bring only destruction. These migrants are not appearing out of nowhere, and it is shocking now that Europe is surprised to see the inevitable consequences from years of misguided international policy that, coupled with corrupt national governments in the Middle East and Africa, have led to the impossible conditions that have forced people to risk everything in pursuit of new homes in lands unknown.
With a problem whose cause lies so often in violence, some still argue that its solution is violence too. Italy's foreign minister Paolo Gentiloni recently proposed "targeted anti-terrorist strikes" into the coastal area to reduce the massive influx of refugees.
Italy took part in the 2011 Nato airstrikes in Libya. It was said nearly 15,000 women, men, and children traveled to the tiny island of Lampedusa, Italy in early 2011, following conflict with Gaddafi. That number is increasing, and destination countries are claiming they can no longer accommodate refugees. Austria's chancellor called for an EU-wide quota for accommodating migrants who reach Europe's southern shores. Several Italian politicians in the North said they would no longer take in migrants, saying they were saving their budgets for their own citizens. Meanwhile, countries such as Greece report limited resources and migrants suffer in poor conditions within detainment centers that feel more like prisons. It can take months for migrants to receive documents and move on from these centers to meet up with relatives in the region. Many, however, will toil away in these centers, or perhaps worse yet, be sent to detainment centers on volatile shores, back to the countries from which they ran. If there is no money to support refugees it is in part because it has already been spent on the proliferation of weapons of war - guns, bombs, and combat training offered to on-the-ground militias who, in their mission to topple oppressive dictators, have also contributed to the militarization of civilian towns, the dissolution of security and safety, the crumbling of people's livelihoods and of their homes. Where the interventions have remained diplomatic rather than military, this has often only added to the destabilization. Take for example Eritrea, a country that has faced unfair sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council for its supposed connection to terrorist organizations like Al-Shabaab. The country's leaders have pleaded innocence. In Eritrea, there is no sign of terrorism. Muslims and Christians live side by side. Instead of learning from them, the international community has reaffirmed sanctions that have hampered development and diminished the wellbeing of the Eritrean people.
The West continues strategies that aim to bring leaders they don't like to their knees but they have only succeeded in bringing the desperate to their own shores.
One can also not ignore the grim irony of countries such as Eritrea being deemed beyond the pale over allegations of supporting extremism while countries such as Saudi Arabia receive the yet more arms and the support of the West in their own regional conflicts.
The migrants now risking their lives, the migrants who are desperate and literally have nowhere else to run are being turned away, treated like rabid animals who have appeared out of thin air. But their situations were created in part by the very governments now shrugging their shoulders, balking that they cannot possibly accommodate these foreigners into their peaceful homes. They cite limited resources and fear of terrorism, without any sense of irony that the resources spent over decades were invested in this new devastation and hopelessness.
If war is a responsibility of the Western nations, than why isn't peace? If it matters that we see fewer migrants perish in these dangerous waters, than why don't their lives post-rescue have any gravity? NATO and the EU have yet to find a problem in Libya they did not think could be solved with bombing. If they had spent more on demilitarization and demobilization after the fall of Gaddafi than they did on ordinance, we might not see such tragedy in the Mediterranean today.
The end to this cycle of terror begins with responsibility. It is time now for Europe and the US to respond to the people, not just to their own selfish foreign policies.