Human Rights Day: Remembering the “Boat People” and Reclaiming Our Humanity

By Anna Azzopardi (FYEG, ADŻ Malta Green Youth) & Joshua Miguel Makalintal (FYEG, Junge Grüne)

Today, the world commemorates the United Nations’ landmark achievement of creating of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

As the cold winter starts to cloud over the Mediterranean, the tragedies that cost countless of human lives over the past summer appear too distance itself from the attention of the people. And that is a tragedy in itself.

A lot of search-and-rescue operations of the so-called “boat people” have been carried out in the Mediterranean by the EU’s Frontex and Italy’s Mare Nostrum. These individuals usually originate from sub-Saharan African countries – although recently there have been arrivals from Palestine and Syria.

What stories do these people carry? A number of them are desperate victims of human trafficking, but most, if not all, subsequently become victims of an inhumane system inconsistent with human rights principles. International law obligates nations to provide asylum to people whose return to their countries of origin would mean possible persecution or death. But for some countries, that notion is just hard to accept.

The anti-immigration movement, mostly composed of right-wingers and populist politicians, unfortunately do not care about human lives. Never mind their political incorrectness in labeling refugees who exercise their right to flee as “illegal”, but their xenophobic rhetoric to attract voters; to appease the people’s delusions rather than follow proper human rights protocols are just some of the things that make today’s society a dark and sad one.

The anti-immigration sentiment is happening because as time passes, the counterproductive effects of the Dublin Regulation are felt. The disadvantageous implication of the Dublin Regulation is that any refugee who lands in an EU member state for the first time must apply their asylum claim in that state.

This naturally results to the downside that a high burden is put on southern EU states, which are either too small or undergoing a political and economic crisis themselves. Northern European states, on the other hand, are comfortable putting their proverbial heads in the sand.

While the south is undergoing such an amount of stress to deal with this massive humanitarian crisis, there is a growing urge for the EU to reform some of its policies. For starters, the Dublin regulation needs to be repealed and asylum seekers must be fairly distributed among all member states.

The stories surrounding the Mediterranean boat people are a never-ending tragedy. The parts of these stories we see; the drownings, the rescue operations, the asylum claims, etc. are just the tip of the iceberg – It’s just a small evident aspect of something largely hidden, since the situation has a deeper facet: trafficking rings, wars, social and economic turmoil are happening, both outside and within our territory.

And it is Europe’s duty to not only ensure the fundamental human rights of refugees to shelter and asylum, but they also have the duty to minimize the atrocities outside their territory. The international community, which includes civil society and all citizens, has to abide by their moral duty to reduce these problems; problems that put our humanity on the line.

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