No one should die in the Mediterranean

Today marks the one year anniversary since three-year-old Aylan Kurdi lost his life at sea and washed ashore in Turkey. His photo went around the world, becoming an icon and a symbol of a world that had failed. A world that had let down Aylan, his family who were fleeing Syria, the 3,700 other people who drowned trying to reach the safety of Europe and the many, many refugees and displaced people across the globe.


By Secretary General, Andreas Kamm

Aylan’s death is a tragedy and the tragedy becomes even greater when we fail to ensure that it won’t happen again. Although fewer people are coming to Europe due to the EU-Turkey agreement and the closure of the Balkan route more people are losing their lives at sea. Since Aylan’s death, 4,182 children and adults have drowned while trying to reach safety.  The death toll isn’t less than the year before, it is more.

While many are under the impression that the refugee influx has stopped, the fact remains that on a global scale, more people are displaced this year than the year before. So while the refugee influx to Europe has decreased, the number of people trapped in conflict zones like Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, Nigeria and Afghanistan or in the neighboring countries has increased.

The pictures of Aylan Kurdi had triggered a united sense of sympathy around the world, a sense of urgency to put an end to this madness. Yet today, children continue to perish traversing the Mediterranean. They continue to perish in conflicts from which they cannot escape.

Last year, there was a collective consternation, an outpouring that could be best described as ‘Never again’. French Prime Minister, Michael Vall tweeted Aylan’s picture urging: “He had a name: Aylan Kurdi. We need to do something now. We need European unity now.” British Prime Minister, David Cameron promised Great Britain would live up to its moral responsibility. Spain’s Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy stated that the world should end the war in Syria. Italy’s Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi said the pictures brought tears and grief and that Europe needed a global strategy to stop this. Despite these words, heartfelt as they may be, the rising numbers show that not enough has been done. The initial outpour of sympathy has dissipated and with it the sense of urgency for decision makers to take action. Even worse, we see decision makers shirking responsibility.

It’s shameful because it’s actually possible to do more:

Europe must strengthen its patrols in the Mediterranean and rescue people in distress at sea. Europe and the world must give more assistance in regions of conflict, to enable a dignified and safe life for refugees close to home. Europe's governments must agree on a common distribution for the reception of refugees. The problems are not simple, but they can be solved.

The argument goes: European unity and values are under threat and in order to protect them we must close our doors. I would argue the opposite. It is in not opening our doors that our unity and values erode. Inaction while thousands continue to drown is not a symbol of unity. Shirking responsibility is not a symbol of our values. In remembering this tragic loss let us do more to change this. People fleeing their homes should not die at sea.