On June 11, a rickety fishing boat called Adriana left the port of Tobruk, Libya, carrying 750 illegal immigrants including Arabs and South Asians. Three days later, after flirting with disaster on numerous occasions, it finally capsized off the coast of Greece, in the Ionian Sea. Most of the passengers involved in this tragedy Boat disaster in Greece deceased.
There were around 200 Pakistanis tied to the lower deck due to circumstances and increasing scarcity in their society. It is not known exactly how many could swim, but most sank. There were others from Africa who had been forced to flee to Europe due to war, government-sponsored hatred of others, and economic collapse. They, too, met a watery grave when the Greek coast guard, influenced by the country’s domestic anti-immigration policies, refused to provide prompt assistance.
Some survivors even accuse the coast guard of having sunk their boats. Media investigations placed the blame on the Greeks. Boat disaster in Greecebut the problem lies not in the behavior of the coast guard, but in the way the West has pursued policies that have not only impoverished Africa and other parts of the world, but also triggered wars, encouraged hate-based policies in these societies and fostered Islamophobia in their own countries.
There is great merit in the response an old man from a South Asian country gave to an angry anti-immigrant in London who wanted to know why brown people are in a white country: “We are here as you were there,” the South Asian replied. succinctly.
After the global war on terrorism, the population of refugees, both external and internally displaced, increased several-fold. UNHCR estimates that the total number of displaced people has risen to 100 million, including around 32 million refugees. Many of them live in gruesome conditions and are subjected to even more severe violence, including the extraction of body parts, which has been alleged by the Chinese government against Uyghur populations. Among the many tragedies linked to displaced people, the boat disaster in Greece is a heartbreaking example of the dangerous conditions refugees face.
The same story is repeating itself in North Africa – societies that have been ravaged by the Arab Spring and an ill-conceived war on terror by the United States. Knowing the life that awaits them in their own countries and even in refugee camps if they manage to escape, many dare to defy natural obstacles to reach Europe or other countries that promise comfort. Every year, thousands of people die in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea trying to cross from Africa to Europe. Since 2014, more than 21,000 people have died trying to cross the border.
More recently, an American daily, the Washington Post, followed the Greek boat disaster and attempted to analyze why immigrants undertake such arduous, costly and deadly expeditions to leave their homes and cross their border. . facing the threat of death for an uncertain life. Its reporter interviewed a Tunisian woman who decided to travel to Europe when her country’s leaders began targeting black people. She and her newborn were kicked out by the landlord who believed in the racist policies of political leaders, and her partner realized they couldn’t survive in a society with so much hatred. It seemed that the promise of life in Europe made him ignore the threat of death that loomed over them on the high seas.
With her newborn in her arms and her partner by her side, they handed over all their savings to the smuggler who promised to take them to Europe. They took the boat to cross the sea that separates Europe from Africa. In places, Tunisia is only 60 km from the nearest Sicilian island. This trip proved too far as the boat sank. The Tunisian woman saw her companion and her newborn sink into an unfathomable sea. Some time later, the journalist found the Tunisian woman returning to her country, saving money to somehow land in Europe. She’s not the only one.
When the Taliban took control of Kabul on August 15, 2021, almost all Afghans left behind by the US government and its allies became refugees in spirit. After enjoying the benefits of Western liberalism under American occupation, hundreds of thousands of people wanted to leave the country for fear of being attacked by the triumphant Taliban. Thousands of people fled to neighboring Central Asian countries, such as Uzbekistan, which shared borders with their country. Many unfortunate people walked to Iran and continued walking hundreds of kilometers across Iran until they reached Turkey and the borders of Europe.
Turkey is no stranger to displaced people. It has provided refuge to people from neighboring war-torn Syria and many other destroyed societies like Afghanistan and Pakistan. At a time when the issue of Syrians was on everyone’s minds, migration experts were wondering what is wrong with Pakistan: why are they fleeing? The same question arises for Indians when they are found hiding in small boats en route to Europe or the United Kingdom. Incidents such as the Greek boat disaster continue to highlight the dire circumstances that push people to undertake such perilous journeys.
Turkey has cleverly created what its critics call a “refugee warehouse.” Implicit in this description is the threat that if Europe does not take care of Ankara’s interests, these refugees could be released onto the xenophobic continent. Europe got a taste of their presence when Syrian refugees began marching to Germany, Hungary, France, etc. Most of them were absorbed in Germany, which lacked personnel and needed the quality of human resources made up of doctors and engineers who came from Syria.
Jordan is another country built on refugees – first Palestinians and more recently Syrians. This writer visited one of the largest refugee camps, Zaatari, near the capital Amman. At its peak, there were a million refugees in this refugee commune, but this number has declined. Zaatari tells its own story. Many residents claim to have been sent to this camp even before the start of the war. Furthermore, they are not allowed to return once hostilities have ended. What does it mean? This author has learned that kicking people out of a place is also a way to bring their plight to the world’s attention. This may or may not be true, but the misery of those who are forced by difficult circumstances to leave their homes and live in camps in countries near and far cannot be described. Refugees are bound by numerous protocols issued by UN agencies if they want to benefit from the generosity of the country welcoming the displaced people. These protocols include not learning the language of the host country, not taking local jobs, or marrying locals.
Cox’s Bazar refugee camp in Bangladesh located in Kutupalong is perhaps the largest in the world, with probably 860,000 Rohingya refugees staying there. The Rohingya, Muslims of Arab origin, escaped the genocidal attempts of the Burmese army which practices its own version of ethnonationalism. When this writer visited the Kutupalong camp, he found that the Rohingya refugees were desperate to overcome the constraints imposed by the Bangladeshi army. Although they feared reliving even the memories of the violence that had driven them from Myanmar’s Sittwe province, where most of the Rohingya resided, they constantly looked for ways to escape the camp. They feared not only the violence of the cyclones which begin to appear as soon as the monsoon clouds pile up on the eastern sky, but also the fear of a wasted life. A refugee asked for this writer’s cell number. “What are you going to do with the cell number?” You are not allowed to keep one. His response was very confident and matter-of-fact: “Don’t worry about it. You will receive a call to Delhi from Kutupalong. The call never came.
Life in a refugee camp, from which many immigrants try to escape, is guided by the values of the UN, which goes against the society from which they come. In Kutupalong, for example, the daily allowance is paid to the women of the family because it is believed that the men blow it with alcohol. By reversing the balance of power, this is considered destabilizing for families. Many men want to escape the tyranny of this new arrangement.
While many refugees perform ordinary work for the host country, they are returned to the camp after completing their daily work. This arrangement, however, earns them extra money, but it hurts their pride.
It is only in the case of people displaced from Ukrainian War that the Western powers tried to preserve their dignity. When war broke out in 2022, special planes were sent for them and they were housed in apartments in other European countries. Some have questioned the apartheid practiced in the way refugees are treated. “Are refugees only those who are brown or black and who come by boat or on foot? And those who come by plane?
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Sanjay Kapoor is a senior journalist based in Delhi. He is a foreign policy specialist focused on India, its neighborhood and West Asia. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of Hardnews magazine. He is a member of the Editors Guild of India (EGI) and until recently was the General Secretary of the EGI.