A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

More Mediterranean Migrants Have Probably Drowned This Year to Date than Died on the Titanic, but None of Them were Named Astor or Guggenheim

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Emma Lazarus for the Statue of Liberty

The latest disaster of a sinking ship carrying migrants from Libya and other parts of Africa to southern Europe has drowned somewhere between 700 and 950 human beings; and it's only one of several such sinkings in the last few weeks. The navies and coast guards of Italy, Malta, and Greece try to rescue survivors, but overpacked migrant ships often capsize with most of the passengers below decks. Libyan migrants are not the only ones aboard; sub-Saharan Africans are also fleeing through Libya.

No one knows the exact toll because some ships may disappear wholly undetected. Many think the death toll this year alone may be over 2,000, perhaps 1,500 or so in the last month alone.

A hundred and three years and a week ago, on April 14, 1912, RMS Titanic sank.  Somewhere between 1,500 and 1,600 people died. Some had names like Astor and Guggenheim, and it became one of the great symbols of the end of an era. Now thousands whose names will never be known are dying at sea, and thousands more are crowding into Lampedusa and Malta and other places looking for refuge. James Cameron probably will not make a high-budget film about their last hours.

It's not just Libya. Refugees from sub-Saharan Africa have been pouring into North Africa looking for a route to Europe. There are no easy answers to massive refugee flows. But there may be humanitarian answers to massive drownings. How many Titanics need to sink before the UNHCR and others recognize we are dealing with a first-order crisis? Despite my reproducing the Photoshop above I can't blame the European countries alone. The North African countries are doing their best to funnel refugees through as quickly as possible and out to sea.

I think the world is finally noticing the toll. The North African countries need to recognize their own responsibilities in this escalating disaster.
copyright Wall Street Journal

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