They are men and women like us – our brothers - and sisters (my addition) - seeking a better life, starving, persecuted, wounded, exploited, victims of war.
I never thought I would quote the pope of all people but desperate news ask for desperate measures.
As I was sleeping in the early hours of this morning, as the first chords of a magnificent dawn chorus was just beginning, as the lilac prepared to open its first blossoms of the year, 700 people drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. They were adrift on an overcrowded vessel few would actually classify as such, never mind declare seaworthy, and tried to alert the attention of a real ship nearby. Seemingly, this caused the vessel to capsize and the latest news are that at least 700 bodies are still in the water.
These are the people we are allowing to die in the Mediterranean: teenage orphans of several (!) civil wars, pregnant women without family, young and old, labourers and academics, sons and daughters.
Nobody - and I dare you - is making this journey just for fun, to steal our wealth or to cheat on welfare systems.
Forget the fact that this society wouldn’t work without migrants, that nobody else will pick your vegetables and make your latte and get up at 4am to clean your office. Forget the massive tax contribution made by migrants to the Treasury. This is not about economics. Far too often, even the positive takes on migration are driven by numbers and finance, by “What can they do for us?”. This is about two things: compassion and responsibility.There are half a million people in Libya waiting to make the crossing. Libya is chaos. Libya is at war. Syria is at war. Sudan is at war. Eritrea is a cruel dictatorship. And so on. I know, African/Middle Eastern problems etc. but wait and think for a minute, it's not that simple.
Not all migration is caused by the west, of course. But let’s have a real conversation about the part that is. Let’s have a real conversation about our ageing demographic and the massive skills shortage here, what it means for overstretched public services if we let migrants in (we’d need to raise money to meet increased demand, and the clearest and fairest way is a rise in taxes on the rich), the ethics of taking the cream of the crop from poor countries. Migration is a complex subject.
We may discuss this another time. Meanwhile, what are going to do?
... let’s not be cowards and pretend the migrants will stop coming. Because they won’t. This will never stop.
Let's remember this:
We can recognise the human right to migration. We can recognise that we are ourselves, all of us, doubly migrants. We are migrants historically: our ancestors came from somewhere else, and originated, long ago, in the same spot in Africa. And we are migrants personally: life is the experience of moving through time, of abandoning each present moment for the next, of temporal migration.