When Water Is Safer Than Land: Addressing distress migration

Jacqueline Bhabha in Harvard Magazine:

CrisisThe jubilation that accompanied the brief flowering of the Arab Spring is long gone as its deadly aftermath—in Libya, Syria, and elsewhere—spirals into transcontinental turmoil. We face the prospect of a grim winter. Hundreds of thousands of desperate people in flight from those indiscriminate civil wars (not to mention the chaos in Iraq and Yemen, the turmoil in parts of Africa, and the ethnic oppression in Myanmar) face arduous hurdles in search of safety and security in Europe and elsewhere, while potential hosts negotiate rising xenophobia (intensified by the November attacks in Paris) and increasing desperation in the face of apparently unending need caused by the continuing migrant arrivals. What alternatives exist? How can this apparent impasse be better tackled? And how should we think about the recurring migration and refugee “crises” that present themselves with almost predictable regularity on every continent? We need a new paradigm for thinking about twenty-first-century “distress migration,” because the post-World War II framework that still governs our laws and procedures is, in practice, defunct.

The Syrian Catastrophe

There is no question about the gravity of the need. The plight of Syrians is most acute. The vast majority of that country’s population (recently estimated at more than 16 million people) are trapped in situations of deadly conflict: flattened cities, escalating civilian casualties (more than 340,000 as of early November, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights), and the disintegration of quotidian life. A substantial minority, more than four million Syrians, eke out lives of “temporary permanence” in underfunded, overcrowded, and increasingly squalid places of refuge in neighboring states, in and outside of actual refugee camps. The prospects of a speedy return home are nil—yet humanitarian interventions are predicated on that assumption, as evidenced by temporary shelter arrangements and makeshift medical care.

More here.