Boat tragedy

Published February 28, 2023

THE woeful plight of refugees forced to flee from violence, persecution and hunger at home has been one of the gravest tragedies of our times. Like cattle, men, women and children are herded through hostile lands by murderous gangs; facing starvation, torture, sexual exploitation, and even death in their desperate quest for a new life in countries they have been told are ‘safe’. Even the sea is not forgiving: in too many instances, the rickety boats used by human smugglers have capsized due to overloading or bad weather, drowning scores of innocents in one go. It is still difficult to shake off the image of Alan Kurdi — the two-year-old Syrian child who drowned in the Mediterranean as his family fled the brutality of the militant Islamic State group — lying lifeless, face down on a Turkish beach. Alan’s death had shaken the global conscience, yet, eight years later, nothing has changed. Early on Sunday, five dozen desperate souls — at least 28 of them Pakistanis — met the same gruesome end off the coast of Italy when the wooden boat carrying them collided against rocks and sank.

It is difficult not to find fault with how unwelcoming European countries have been towards people fleeing countries made unsafe by the policies of their governments. It is indeed necessary to crack down on human smuggling gangs, who continue to prey on refugees’ desperation, but equally important for Western nations to reflect on why so many countries continue to be wracked by such turmoil that people feel they have no option but to flee, and what role they have played in precipitating those conditions. One is reminded of the opening verses of that moving poem by Warsan Shire, Home: “no one leaves home unless/ home is the mouth of a shark/ you only run for the border/ when you see the whole city running as well”. It is time the world starts seeing refugees as humans, not problems.

Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2023

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