April 28 2015 – Reported by the Toronto Star – The recent tragedies of the migrant deaths off the shores of Italy are a wake-up call. The EU must act immediately to implement practices in order to prevent the recurrence of these disasters. But beyond this obvious need for drastic change is the need to take a hard look at the thinking behind such tragedies.
It is now common ground that the cuts to rescue programs were misguided. The notion that reducing rescue programs would act as a deterrent to the arrival of migrant ships was ill-conceived and illogical. Perhaps we should force the majority of doctors to stop working in hopes that fewer people will seek medical treatment. Or eliminate old-age pensions to force people to save their money when they are young.
Blaming the victims doesn’t get us very far, either. People have the right to seek refugee and humanitarian protection under international conventions. Most EU countries are signatories to the UN’s 1951 refugee convention and other human rights protections such as the convention against torture. The EU itself has laws, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights, that require compliance with such conventions.
International laws dictate that there is no queue for people in need of protection. People have the right to assert their legal rights to seek protection. Although arrival by ship is often dangerous and seemingly unusual, there is nothing illegal about this method of arrival.
Moreover, the presumption that people are somehow out to take advantage of our generosity is without foundation. The UNHCR recognizes that “unless he seeks adventure or just wishes to see the world, a person would not normally abandon his home and country without some compelling reason.” As a result, countries must examine the “compelling reasons” people put forward to determine whether protection is needed.
But before we sit back and think that this is exclusively a European problem, recall the Ocean Lady and MV Sun Sea. These ships arrived on the shores of British Columbia in 2009 and 2010 with close to 600 Sri Lankan Tamils who sought Canada’s help in obtaining protection as a persecuted people…story continues below…