21st April, 2015
Published in The Independent here
Last winter my cousin died on a migrant ship in the Mediterranean Sea. Amjad was 26 years old. My family were ethnically cleansed from Palestine in 1948, after which they settled in Damascus. Since 2011 they have been embroiled in a war not of their making. Food, water, heating, security and hope are becoming luxuries, scarcer by the day.
Meanwhile, I can buy mangoes and coconuts in December, I attend a top university, and my idea of a problem is when ‘Orange is the New Black’ won’t load on Netflix. My cousin and I are no different – we have the same genetic make-up, speak the same language and follow the same religion. And yet my maroon British passport gives me both immunity and freedom, whereas he perished fleeing a bloodthirsty civil war. Borders do not and should not mean anything: it is simply by chance that I am here and they are there. Where is the justice in that?
These migrants, dying in their hundreds aboard death-trap boats, are the most vulnerable. Our media and politicians talk about them like they are dirty, unwanted, or – worse yet – invisible. We give airtime to people like Katie Hopkins, tolerating their Neo-Nazi bile – calling migrants ‘cockroaches’, yet we devote so much less space to questioning who these people are, why they would embark on such deadly journeys and what can be done to ameliorate their suffering. Or perhaps the most pertinent question: why is nothing being done to help them.
Instead, our politicians – even those on the supposed ‘Left’ – talk about migration in terms of economic gain. Our media has turned ‘asylum seeker’ into a euphemism for ‘benefit thief’. Far Right groups are on the rise across Europe and instances of Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and other racially motivated hate crimes erupt ever more frequently. Our apathy towards those dying in the Mediterranean, floundering on the horizons of our favourite holiday resorts, to my mind, epitomises this intolerance. We are moving inextricably towards a point where we worship borders and security over human life, where black and brown bodies will perpetually be dismissed as the ‘Other’ and where we have dehumanised and dismissed our fellow man.
It is the most supreme form of double-think that we have the audacity to use phrases like ‘Human Rights’ while vulnerable people are being left to die on our doorsteps, and those seeking asylum are indefinitely held in uninhabitable detention centres. That my government will not contribute to or partake in the rescue missions of these boats is despicable. We have a duty to help, not only because of the West’s historical, colonial and ongoing role in these war-torn and poverty-stricken countries, but because in the twenty-first century, people should not be dying in ramshackle boats, or crossing continents in search of a better life. Over 1,500 migrants have died at sea in the last four months – that is an astounding figure. Their crime? Aspiring for stability in Fortress Europe. We have no right to belittle or ignore their plight, let alone play God and decide whether they live or die. How many more nameless, faceless migrants must drown on in our waters before Europe takes responsibility? Today the UN has counted 800 migrants dead, Amjad’s death caused my family enough pain, multiplying that by 900 is too much to bear.
Like: Zena Agha