The Rohingya exodus and Europe migrant crisis: two tragedies that need one solution

by Regina Catrambone | MOAS
Thursday, 21 December 2017 12:15 GMT

An exhausted Rohingya refugee woman touches the shore after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border by boat through the Bay of Bengal, in Shah Porir Dwip, Bangladesh September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui/File Photo

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* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Women and children make up at least half of the world refugee population

Between August 25th and December 7th 647,000 Rohingya arrived in Bangladesh, a lower middle income country that is giving a valuable lesson of solidarity to the entire world. In 2016 and 2017 in Europe nearly 527,000 people were recorded in total, and the most common political solution has been closing national borders and turning solidarity into a crime.

What if so many desperate people in extreme need of medical assistance and food aid had come to Europe?

Migration has been one of the main features of human history, yet we still call it an “unpredictable emergency” with no comprehensive solution.

As a co-founder and director of the international organization Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), over the last few years I have witnessed two major humanitarian crises, the first in the Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea, the second in South-East Asia.

Since founding MOAS in 2014, we have rescued and assisted over 40,000 children, women and men, before focusing our attention on the Rohingya exodus to Bangladesh, where we are currently providing emergency humanitarian aid and medical assistance with our two MOAS Aid Station in Shamlapur and Unchiprang.

Despite the geographical distance, there are many common factors between these two crises, the most prominent being the exposure of vulnerable people to deadly risks in their effort to reach safety.

Women and children make up at least half of the world refugee population, although amid the Rohingya communities the percentage of children can reach 60 percent, mainly unaccompanied or separated.

According to the International Law, special protection should be granted to victims of torture, trafficking and sexual violence, but both in the Mediterranean and in South-East Asia people have become an easy prey for sexual exploitation and human trafficking, with children trapped into forced labour or prostitution.

Both in the Med and South-East Asia, unseaworthy vessels have been used by desperate people at the hands of criminal networks that often force them into human trafficking, slavery and sexual exploitation.

Lack of safe and legal ways to flee violence doesn’t prevent people from crossing national borders. It increases risks and makes traffickers’ businesses thrive.

While the European Union’s 28 Member States are struggling to agree on a common solution to the migrant crisis, Bangladesh and aid agencies have been put to the test with the arrival since August of more than half a million Rohingya.

Turning a blind eye to violations and abuse and ignoring people’s suffering will only exacerbate existing conflicts by triggering further violence.

Humanitarian corridors should be the very first step to revert the current deadly migration trend and restore both human dignity and the rule of law because solidarity, mercy and brotherhood have no borders.

Without overcoming of national egoism and seeing human rights as the highest priority, no solution can be achieved.

Regina Catrambone is director and co-founder of the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS).