Horror in Med highlights global migrant woe

The latest disaster in the Mediterranean Sea is now believed to have cost 950 migrants their lives. Should it prompt us to reconsider the way we discuss migration?

Many of those who make the journey to the north of Libya are so desperate to reach Europe that they cross the whole Sahara desert, facing possible kidnap or death on the way. Those coming from a country such as Somalia may have travelled 3,000km or more by the time they arrive. But it’s after this that the most dangerous part of their journey begins.

On Sunday morning — just days after a similar tragedy last week — hundreds were forced into the hull of a boat preparing to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Italy. Less than 20 miles from the Libyan coast, the boat capsized; up to 950 are feared to have drowned in the deadliest of a series of accidents. Up to 1,500 may now have died making the trip since the start of 2015 — more than 50 times as many as in the same part of 2014 — and all this before the beginning of summer, when migration has always tended to peak. As European ministers met to discuss the crisis yesterday, two more boats issued distress calls.

More migrants die in the Mediterranean than anywhere else in the world, but hazards exist for those seeking a better life elsewhere too. 68,000 children are estimated to have crossed the southern US border unaccompanied in 2014 alone. Many of them undertook hazardous and lengthy journeys, from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala and through Mexico. Migrants from southern Asia, eastern Africa and the Pacific islands often attempt dangerous sea crossings to Australia.

But despite their tribulations, migrants are not always welcomed on arrival. On Manus Island, some who attempted to reach Australia have been kept in cramped, hot conditions for two years, drawing condemnation from human rights groups such as Amnesty International. Europeans, Americans and Australians have all expressed concern that migrants will place extra demands on their scarce resources, competing for houses, jobs, school places and healthcare.

Open borders, open hearts?

Even those who defend migration often do so by emphasising new arrivals’ willingness and ability to contribute to the economy, rather than on humanitarian grounds. But some argue this is selfish. Any strain which these migrants may place on rich countries will not compare to the conflict and misery they have escaped from. As human beings, we should share the burden of helping those in need. An open-border policy, allowing people to migrate easily, is also an open-hearted one.

Others contend that this is unrealistic. Nations and borders have been built through respect for people’s shared identities over centuries, they say. It is arrogant to assume that allowing migrants to move freely solves problems; it simply displaces them onto other countries.

You Decide

  1. Should governments make dangerous migration routes safer?
  2. Should we care about some migrants more than others?


  1. Make a list of dangers you would face when crossing the desert and sea as a migrant. Which would you be most afraid of, and why?
  2. Research ‘prevention through deterrence’ on the US — Mexico border. Write a speech explaining why you think it is or is not a good idea.

Some People Say...

“Rich countries have no choice but to take care of people who are suffering.”

What do you think?

Q & A

This is awful. Why do the boats keep sinking?
The migration is illegal, so nobody enforces safety standards. Inadequate boats — some of them even on autopilot — are sent across rough seas to make journeys of around 200 miles.
If people keep dying, why do others keep trying it?
Many victims of civil war in African and Middle Eastern countries, including Libya itself, feel they have no other hope. Unfortunately, once the migrants get to the coast, hoping to reach Europe, they fall prey to people traffickers, who charge a high price to get them across illegally to Italian territory.
How likely is it to end?
Unlikely in the short term. Dealing with the traffickers will be very hard. While people keep suffering, they will keep trying to escape. In the meantime, more rescue boats may be needed.

Word Watch

The northern coast of Libya is around 180 miles from Lampedusa, an Italian island. Libya is currently experiencing civil war between militant groups, with nobody in effective charge. The previous ruler, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, was overthrown in 2011.
European ministers
Foreign ministers from the European Union’s member countries met yesterday to discuss the issue. They announced a 10-point package which included financial action and a plan to destroy the people traffickers’ boats.
Southern US border
The United States’ border with Mexico is 1,933 miles long. Many people from Central America cross it every year to try to live in the US, but the journey is fraught with hazards.
Manus Island
An island of Papua New Guinea, in the Pacific Ocean, where Australia has built a detention camp for migrants seeking refugee status. Amnesty International says the camp is designed to ‘break people’, rather than process their claims for asylum. It says that the people held there are living in cramped, hot conditions with minimal water, and with no way of knowing what could happen to them.

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