When Governments Fail to Act, We Must


The response of European governments to the refugee crisis has been a complete mess. It has ranged from the pragmatic and laudable, such as in the case of Germany and Austria, to the absolutely appalling, such as in the case of Hungary, and yes, the UK. Hungary's Viktor Orban has expressed his concern about the refugees' Muslim faith -- as if out of the script-book of the neo-Nazi PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident). And the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, has had to be pestered by his own cabinet ministers, who are by no means open-minded about immigration, to announce that Britain will accept 20,000 Syrians... over five years. This only a month or so after referring to the refugees as a "swarm" of migrants. Even Germany's Angela Merkel, who has emerged out of this as a lone example of a politician capable of human empathy, has said that Germany was expecting 800,000 asylum requests, not that Germany was thrilled about the whole thing.

And yet. Despite the disgusting lack of moral fibre amongst our politicians, hundreds of thousands, no, millions of Europeans have stepped up and shown that not all of what we say about universal human rights and dignity is self-serving clap-trap. There have been the Hungarians who waited for refugees near the border with blankets and warm drinks. The Austrians and the Germans who have gone to the train stations day after day to welcome the refugees with open arms in person. And by now Britons will have volunteered more rooms for refugees than the British government says it will allow into Britain. More and more people across our continent are refusing to be defined by the moral blindeness of their leaders, and have taken things into their own hands.

But there is yet more that needs to be done. And not everyone who would like to offer a room to a refugee has the ability to do so. Fortunately, there are other ways to help. The biggest ongoing concern about the migration remains the ever-rising death toll. So far this year over 2,500 people have died in the Mediterranean, trying to get across in woefully unsuitable boats. And as we enter autumn, the deteriorating weather is likely to continue to push that number up. European governments, in their infinite wisdom, have decided that helping people get across would "create an incentive for many others to follow suit". Because obviously the decision on whether to flee a government who wants to use chemical weapons of you will hinge on whether the Italian coast guard is feeling friendly towards you this week.

Thus it has fallen on NGOs and volunteers to carry out even this extremely dangerous relief effort. But their intervention is, quite literally, a matter of life and death. In just one day on Wednesday, last week, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) boats in the Mediterranean rescued 1,658 people, 199 of whom were children. The Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) operates one of the only three rescue ships with MSF, The Phoenix. The Phoenix has rescued 11,000 people in the last year alone. But MOAS operations are due to end on 31st October, which would cut the number of rescue missions with MSF by a third.


This is where we are needed the most. A crowdfunding campaign called People's Armada has been launched on Indiegogo to buy a search and rescue ship for immediate action in the Mediterranean. With so few search and rescue ships operating on the Mediterranean right now, another ship or two could help to double the number of people rescued.

People's Armada is a movement by the public to raise €3 million in 10 days to buy and refit at least one new boat for MOAS. However, if successful, the ambition is much greater -- to crowdfund for a fleet of ships for MOAS -- quite literally a People's Armada -- to save more lives. In the time it takes for European leaders to book their flights to Brussels, the public may have saved another 11,000 lives for the year ahead. Please visit their page and help the best you can. This time it is up to us, and together we can make a huge difference. Dr Azeem Ibrahim is an RAI Fellow at the University of Oxford