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by Larry

April, 2015

People Smuggling - High Crimes on the High Seas

Years ago I enjoyed sci-fi works depicting fictional dramas engendered in the then future by overpopulation, unstable economies, regional conflicts, and global warming. Today those dramas are real, and hearing or reading about them is far less enjoyable. There is currently a great breakdown of order and functional social systems. A perfect storm of adverse factors has been unleashed in areas where people have already been long under stress. It is not just causing major refugee or migrant problems in nations south of the U.S. Africa and the Middle East are experiencing their worst levels of strife since World War II. The numbers of displaced persons or people attempting to live in war zones may be unprecedented in modern times. This is

Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) rescue of 105 migrants in the Mediterranean 10-4-14 (Wikipedia)
aggravated by a drop in vital resources, such as water and grains, which in turn may be linked to the heating up of the planet. The Arab Spring unrest, for instance, commenced in Tunisia following a shortage there of staple foodstuffs and consequent dramatic rises in costs for people to feed themselves and their families. In Syria, where civil war has killed hundreds of thousands in recent years and millions are attempting to escape the violence, prolonged drought has changed the countryside from fertile farmland to dusty wastelands.

One seemingly inevitable result of economic and military crises of whatever original cause seems to be that people smugglers exploit the situation by charging steep prices to move desperate folks in unreliable and unsafe ways. Around the Mediterranean, this is taking the form of thousands of migrants or refugees being transported weekly across the ocean toward European coasts in vessels that are often barely seaworthy. On occasion, once they have been paid the crews and smugglers abandon the "ghost ships" and their refugee cargoes to the uncertain mercies of weather and currents. Fires break out in the hazardous ships. They capsize in storms or drift toward coastal rocks. Hundreds of people at a time are losing their lives to these unscrupulous techniques. This past week alone, Italian rescue services saved several thousand migrant refugees in danger of drowning. An unknown but hardly minor number were not rescued in time. In just one incident, reported on 4/19/15, about 900 would-be migrants are feared dead after their vessel capsized. Many hundreds more are known to have drowned in similar tragedies so far this year.

Experts say that conditions are so bad in the many countries from which the refugees and other migrants are fleeing that more will keep making the attempt to cross the sea in hopes of starting over in Europe, though smugglers exact heavy costs for their services and the risks are great that one may either suffer serious injury or death or be sent back penniless to one's home country.

The United Nations, national governments, relief organizations, faith-based groups, and other charities are assisting in a variety of ways, yet their combined resources have been inadequate to the vast needs of so many.

What can we as individuals or families do to help? It seems frustrating to acknowledge, but in most cases we can make little difference in the level of misery that exists in certain regions today. People do best when dealing with a very focused kind of aid to others, such as a brother of mine in TX does in inspiring and exemplifying generous donations to homeless individuals. When millions are in need and at risk, the scope of the problem is often too staggering to even motivate action. One group making a difference is a humanitarian search and rescue foundation, Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), which has rescued and assisted thousands of migrants or refugees who have attempted to cross the Mediterranean but run into life-threatening difficulties on the way.

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