© Kevin McElvaney
Again, and again, and again. My WhatsApp feed fills with the latest news from the Central Mediterranean. Our Project Coordinator, Ferry, has announced, yet again, that another group of people has drowned miles away from us and only a few survivors have been found by another boat I think that it’s the third announcement of its kind this week, but I’m losing track.
I’ve been on Aquarius, a search and rescue boat in the Mediterranean Sea ,which is jointly run by MSF and SOS Mediterranee, for 12 weeks now and I’m tired. I’m tired of the constant stream of horrendous news of yet more mass drownings. I’m tired of hearing from friends working on other boats that they have been up for almost three days straight tending to people traumatized by watching family members drown and whose skin has peeled off due to fuel burns. I’m tired of hearing funding announcements to build walls and train groups to turn refugees back rather than hearing governments talk about ways to achieve safe passage for people searching for a safe and better life.
It has gotten to the point where the dread of what will come tomorrow fills me with such horror that I come close to vomiting. The anxiety of wondering if we will be the ones to get to a boat in distress just after it has spilled its precious cargo into the sea, eats away at me. My colleagues and I dream up scenarios where we could potentially help hundreds of people drowning at the same time and but we know that we don’t have the tools to do that. At best we could help several people drowning but certainly not hundreds. We can’t fix the problem once people are in the sea drowning but those of you at home can help to prevent people from needing to go to the sea in the first place.
You can vote for governments who will develop ways for people who need help to live better lives in their home countries. You can demand that your government share in the rich bounty that refugees bring to their adopted countries rather than allowing their potential to lie dead at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. People who cross the Mediterranean know the risks and would rather be dead than continue to live in their home countries. Have any of us ever felt that strongly about anything in our lives?
We need innovative visa systems that can respond to crises rather than ones that allow traffickers and smugglers to get rich and the desperate to die. We need to match the skills of migrants to the needs of their future home countries so that governments can clearly see the immense benefits refugees bring to their country (Clemens, News Deeply Oct 31/16). And if the migrants and refugees do not have the skill set required to be successful in their new countries, we need to invest in them so that we all can reap the immense benefits that refugees and migrants bring to a country – keeping them unemployed, working on the black market, or uneducated benefits no one.
Out here on Aquarius, we are merely slapping bandages on wounds that have been bleeding for many years but are now beginning to hemorrhage. We need to stop treating the symptoms and look at the cause. Let’s stop trying to prevent people from coming to Europe by building legal and physical fences and walls. Let’s end the practice of giving vast sums of money to “border forces” in countries with terrible human rights records. Simply stemming the flow of people in lands where they are out of the sight of European eyes does not stop the problem – it just hides it.
NGOs cannot continue to pluck people out of the seas indefinitely. Despite our efforts, we already have more than 4,000 mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and children dead in the Central Mediterranean this year. We need to stop this insanity. As I near the end of my mission, my hope that the situation will soon improve falters. I despair for a world where the deaths of hundreds of people at sea each month no longer make headlines and our response to fellow human beings is to close our eyes, push them back from our borders, and pretend that the problem does not exist.