By Maithili Parikh:
The haunting photos of the dead body of the three-year-old Syrian toddler Aylan, who was found on Aegean beach of Bodrum, created much outrage in media and social media world over. Aylan was trying to reach Europe from Syria’s war-torn town of Kobani when he, along with his brother and mother, drowned in the rough waters. This incident garnered media prominence, and the heartbreaking images of baby Aylan, being passed around, exerted massive international pressure on the European leaders to address the immigrant crisis. However, rarely factored, often dismissed and increasingly forgotten is the Libyan-Italian refugee crisis, which has witnessed deaths no less horrifying and inhuman than Aylan’s.
The end of Gaddafi’s regime during the Arab Spring, though was predicted to be a blessing, in fact, spelled out greater terror and violence for the Libyans, as Libya was engulfed in a bloody civil war. Libya’s political instability grew multifold as three factions fought to take control of the country and the ISIS began increasing their presence on the entire Libyan coast. Violence and brutality, synonymous with ISIS, plague the Libyans, who out of sheer desperation, attempt the dangerous sea journey at the hands of human traffickers to the nearest Italian territory- the island of Lampedusa– in order to reach Europe. The Libyan refugees travel on obsolete ships, filled far above capacity and largely unsuitable for the route, in the dark of the night, to avoid the coastal authorities. As can be expected, this journey ridden with safety hazards often goes awry, and most of these boats sink. Despite the fact that the Italian Navy carries out rescue operations regularly, death tolls are high.
The fortune of the lucky few, who manage to reach the Italian coastal towns, is not much better as they have to wait in long lines for the Italian Government to evaluate their asylum requests, which are more often than not denied. After this denial, the Libyan refugees officially become the responsibility of Italy, as according to the Dublin Regulation, a European Union Law, which determines the member state responsible for accepting or rejecting asylum. It makes the member state first applied to for asylum, i.e. mandatorily the member country, where the refugee first arrived, responsible for the refugees. Unfair, would you say but can it be helped? Therefore, Italy is under tremendous infrastructural pressure to cope with rising magnitude of refugees arriving on its coast. But here is a chilling thought; what happens when the Italian Navy can’t intervene?
On 19th April 2015 a boat with 700 migrants sunk into the Strait of Sicily at night. There were no survivors.
Perhaps this issue does not affect us in India, but immigration affects us as a country and as a single individual. Today the concerned countries are Libya and Italy, tomorrow it could be India and Sri Lanka; what good are international organizations with massive funds and work-force if innocent lives are being lost in such high numbers? It is essential for countries to cooperate internationally, to balance the burden of refugees and minimize death toll of refugees seeking asylum, without compromising on human rights.
“What is at stake is nothing less than the survival and well-being of an entire generation of innocents.”