DAY 263: The point of it

December 7th, 2018 § 0 comments

I’m writing from an increasing sense of despair. I read, every day, reports like this:

‘Medical teams working with asylum seekers on Greek islands are seeing multiple cases each week of minors who have attempted suicide or otherwise harmed themselves, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today, calling for the immediate evacuation of vulnerable people, especially children, to the Greek mainland or within the European Union.More than 9,000 people—a third of whom are children—are stuck indefinitely on the island of Lesbos in Moria camp, which has a maximum capacity of 3,100 people. There have been numerous critical incidents highlighting significant gaps in the protection of children and other vulnerable people, MSF said. These include patients who have experienced violence, children who have harmed themselves, and people who lack access to urgently needed medical care. MSF provides mental health care and other medical services to camp residents.moria“These children come from countries in war, where they have experienced very extreme violence and trauma,” said Dr. Declan Barry, MSF’s medical coordinator in Greece. “Rather than receiving care and protection in Europe, they are instead subjected to ongoing fear, stress, and episodes of further violence, including sexual violence.”From February to June, in a group mental health activity for children from 6 to 18 years old, MSF teams observed that nearly a quarter of the children (18 out of 74) had harmed themselves, attempted suicide, or had thought about committing suicide. Other child patients suffer from elective mutism, panic attacks, anxiety, aggressive outbursts, and constant nightmares.The camp conditions also lead to a high risk of infectious diseases and other health conditions. In the first two weeks of September alone, more than 1,500 people arrived on Lesbos. With no space left, they are now sleeping without shelter or sufficient food and only extremely limited access to medical care.”As a result of the unsafe and unsanitary environment, we see many cases of recurrent diarrhea and skin infections in children of all ages,” Dr. Barry said. “At this level of overcrowding and unsanitary conditions, the risk of outbreaks is very high.”MSF has treated many children who have been identified by the hospital as needing care in Athens, but due to a lack of accommodation on the mainland, these children cannot access care. Instead, they are forced to live in an environment where their medical conditions and mental health deteriorate.”This is the third year that MSF has been calling on the Greek authorities and the European Union to take responsibility for their collective failures and to put in place sustainable solutions to avoid this catastrophic situation,” said Louise Roland-Gosselin, MSF head of mission in Greece. “It is time to immediately evacuate the most vulnerable to safe accommodation in other European countries.”MSF has been working outside of Moria camp since late 2017, providing pediatric care, mental health care for minors, and sexual and reproductive health care. MSF has also run a mental health clinic in Mytilene since October 2016.
 It’s easy to get addicted to reading this kind of stuff- a huge amount from the Greek islands, but also from the French coast, of course, from ‘hotspots’ throughout Europe; supplemented by the constant reports of wrecking and drowning in the Mediterranean, of which more later. That is, if you accept that you are reading real stories about real children – and why on earth should they be invented? What motive would MSF have for creating a genre of fiction which deals solely with the suffering of refugee children?
And so, if they are true, we should also feel some human involvement, that these are real people whose suffering is genuine; and that we have in some sense a duty to ‘do something’. The number of migrants – displaced people – who have arrived in Europe in the last four years is in the tens of thousands. Their treatment by governments is often disgraceful; so that they have no housing, and live where they can in conditions of appalling misery. Care for their safety and survival is left to organisations like MSF.
Coincidentally at sea, (well, it’s not an accident, rather part of a pattern of organised repression), MSF with its rescue ship the Aquarius faces imminent lockdown. An extract from their announcement:
  • Since February 2016, the Aquarius has assisted nearly 30,000 people in international waters between Libya, Italy and Malta
  • An estimated 2,133 people have died in the Mediterranean in 2018
  • Not only has Europe failed to provide search and rescue capacity, it has also actively sabotaged others’ attempts to save lives

MARSEILLE – As refugees, migrants and asylum seekers continue to die in the Mediterranean Sea, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and its partner SOS MEDITERRANEE have been forced to terminate operations by the search and rescue vessel Aquarius.

Over the past two months, with people continuing to flee by sea along the world’s deadliest migration route, the Aquarius has remained in port, unable to carry out its humanitarian work.

This is the result of a sustained campaign, spearheaded by the Italian government and backed by other European states, to delegitimise, slander and obstruct aid organisations providing assistance to vulnerable people.

Coupled with the EU’s ill-conceived external policies on migration, this campaign has undermined international law and humanitarian principles. With no immediate solution to these attacks, MSF and SOS MEDITERRANEE have no choice but to end operations by the

_104411698_hi050719578 Aquarius.

“This is a dark day,” says Nelke Manders, MSF’s general director. “Not only has Europe failed to provide search and rescue capacity, it has also actively sabotaged others’ attempts to save lives. The end of Aquarius means more deaths at sea, and more needless deaths that will go unwitnessed.”

Over the past 18 months, the attacks by EU states on humanitarian search and rescue operations have drawn on tactics used in some of the world’s most repressive states.

Despite working in full compliance with authorities, the Aquarius was twice stripped of its registration earlier this year and now faces allegations of criminal activity – allegations which are patently absurd.

Amid these smear campaigns and manoeuvres to undermine international law, people rescued at sea have been denied access to safe ports, refused assistance from other ships and left stranded at sea for weeks at a time.

The forced end to the Aquarius’ operations happens at a critical time. An estimated 2,133 people have died in the Mediterranean in 2018, with departures from Libya accounting for the overwhelming majority of deaths.

European member states have fuelled the suffering by enabling the Libyan coastguard to intercept more than 14,000 people at sea this year and forcibly return them to Libya.

This is in clear violation of international law. In 2015, Europe made a commitment to the UN Security Council that nobody rescued at sea would be forced to return to Libya.

“Today, Europe is directly supporting forced returns while claiming successes on migration,” says Karline Kleijer, MSF’s head of emergencies. “Let’s be clear about what that success means: a lack of lifesaving assistance at sea; children, women and men pushed back to arbitrary detention with virtually no hope of escape; and the creation of a climate that discourages all ships at sea from carrying out their obligations to rescue those in distress.”

Since the start of its search and rescue mission in February 2016, the Aquarius has assisted nearly 30,000 people in international waters between Libya, Italy and Malta.

The Aquarius’ last active period of search and rescue ended on 4 October 2018, when it arrived in the port of Marseille following the rescue of 58 people.

Together with MSF’s previous search and rescue vessels – the Bourbon Argos, Dignity, Prudence and Phoenix – MSF has rescued or assisted more than 80,000 people in the Mediterranean Sea since 2015.

Despite recent efforts of other NGOs at sea, today there are no dedicated rescue boats operating in the Central Mediterranean.

“As long as people are drowning and trapped in Libya, MSF remains committed to finding ways to provide them with medical and humanitarian care,” says Kleijer.

All this is well-known; I have repeated it over and over gain, and so have many many others who have involved themselves in the struggle to ensure the rights of refugees, at all stages of their journey; whether on arrival in some squalid camp like Moria, or during their onward journey, or finally in their attempts to establish the right to make their home in this country. There are many of us, often my friends, or their friends, who have chosen to stand with the refugees and defend their rights. But for every post which I read supporting them, I may read half a dozen which call for them to be sent back where they came, and which call them fakes, healthy adults,  undeserving our support, who should be returned (across the desert?) to the zones of war and starvation from which they have fled. Are these voices (which, I repeat, I read all the time, as can you) in any way representative of our people – or are they simply part of that lunatic fringe which social media are notorious for fostering? I sincerely hope that it’s the second.For our own survival as a nation of civilised people, we have to resist them.
I was lucky enough (and had enough money) last night ti hear Ralph McTell singing ‘The Streets of London‘ for I respect the at leat five thousandth time Lucky that it bears repeating that many times, and still speaks to the dispossessed in out cities.

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