Refugees? You ain’t see nothing yet

christopher_lee180-11

September 2015 London.The world of Tweets, texts and social media in 74 languages that started the Arab Spring is now doing what Europe’s political finest would not do- moving aside barriers. Even the UK’s self-confessed compassionate Prime Minsiter David Cameron has been shamed into executing the biggest u-turn of his Downing Street career on this.

Forty eight hours after saying that the UK would not take extra refugees he was promising that the British Isles will take “thousands” more refugees from the war in Syria. Poor chap must know that most will see this as a political u-turn and very little to do with compassion. Considering that compassion is the first duty of government that must be a harsh opinion to handle.

What remains a curious side to the events of the past few days is that so many European states have been caught by surprise by the size and complexity of the migration tragedy. For four years we have watched millions on the move from homelands struck day after day and night after night by terror seemingly from all sides. We watched and help cope with the movement of devastated peoples filling hastily built tent cities beyond the land borders of, say, Syria. We watched for eighteen months or so as refugee smugglers over-stowed small craft with refugees as far away as Ethiopia.

Yet still our North European governments failed to plan for what we now see. Yet the aid agencies, the network camera crews and the seemingly daily reports of tragedies said this was happening and was becoming an unmanageable crises. On the contrary, in the EU our governments did not stop a vote to reduce the humanitarian maritime watch over the crossings of the Mediterranean between North Africa and places like Lampedusa.

As an example of the frustration felt when evidence was ignored, I was part of an ad hoc group who sat in the University of Perugia studying the mass migration trends and predicted with uncanny accuracy the sort of scenes we have seen these past couple of weeks. In 2014 my paper on numbers and what should be the maritime response including the command & control structure plus the administration of land-based reception, recording and onward dispatch centers was not hard to write. Mass movement since Moses have had one distinction: no variation in the form and consequence of that movement. It is follow-my-leader on a massive scale that invites similar tragedy and consequence once the caravan halts.

The Italians took notice of what we were doing. A copy was sent to the NATO Secretary General’s office. The Sitrep programme on BFBS reported it. True the maritime effort was resumed and vessels such as HMS Bulwark did and are doing heroic work. But that was in response to the crisis, not the flashing lights two or more years back.

The cruel conclusion is that it took the body of a three year-old lad on a washed beach to move forward the action plot and the political up date. That is the way we are today.

The EU’s foreign affairs specialist Federica Mogherini said a couple of days ago that EU countries need to set aside their differences and stand together to deal with the problem.

“The time for blame games is over, it’s time for taking decisions, turning decisions into actions, and doing it united, as Europeans.

“Only in this way will we have the possibilities to face this issue, this urgency, this dramatic event, keeping faith to our European values,” she said.

Ms Mogherini is an Italian. In her words there was something very Italian. The Italians were in the first front line of this tragedy and they responded with great honour. The rest of us did not and mostly we still are not. Maybe we are all scared of what it could mean, the mass migration of peoples who are victims of war that we partly created.

Whatever the values Ms Mogherini thinks abandoned there are three truths we should all think hard on:

  • There was massive warning of what was about to happen
  • It took Twitter etc before most states reacted with compassion
  • 28 states of the EU are now caught in an East-West schism

There is something else to think hard on: today there are 60 million displaced persons in the world. What we now see is just the beginning.

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