From the shores of Lybia venture countless migrant vessels, each overflowing with hopefuls seeking a new start in the Old Continent. In the years since the Arab Spring movement transformed a dozen countries, many have opted to leave the Middle East and North Africa for a better life in Europe. This new demographic phenomenon is gaining exposure around the world, largely through media coverage of the Syrian Civil War and the recent sinking of several migrant ships in the Mediterranean.
For decades the Middle East has been viewed as a conflict zone, worries of interstate violence against Israel topping the list of concerns. For a decade terrorism became the new buzzword, and since 2011 the game has changed dramatically again. This time it's the advent of new conflicts that are far removed from international borders, a hybrid of terrorism, war, and genocide that is quickly becoming an unfathomable humanitarian crisis. Take for example ISIS, whose incredible growth in the past year has taken the world by surprise. The fear that has been struck into the hearts of westerners has been impressive, but the real victims of ISIS are the inhabitants of the region.
It should, therefore, come as no surprise that the rates of outward migration from the Middle East or North Africa are mammoth. For many who have wanted to leave their homeland, there has never been a better time. From their perspectives, Europe is a land of promise, akin to the appeal of America during the late nineteenth century - a beacon of hope. People are willing to drop everything and risk their lives to restart in Europe. And so hundreds of thousands arrange passage across the Mediterranean.
Much like the beacon of hope that America has been viewed as (think of Ellis Island), Europe offers liberty and promise to those fleeing poverty and persecution. However, the Europe they find is, in various measures, largely xenophobic, particularly toward Muslims.
Take the seaside town of Catania, in the south of Italy. The town has been flooded by those rescued from sinking migrant vessels. Some villagers are frightened that they will have to take care of these huddled masses, responsible to clothe them, protect them, feed them, and police them. It's not surprising that the question of Italy absorbing these migrants has been met with widely polarised reaction.
Italy has been forced to take in the vast majority of migrants. Moreover, it has also been responsbile for surveying the deadly waters. The programme, which Italy cannot afford to run, has not gotten financial support from the EU despite significant pressure from both the Italian government and wider public opinion. It was cut significantly last year when, during an eight month period, approximately 3100 people died attempting to cross the sea.
As far as humanitarian crises go, this exodus from North Africa and the Middle East is among the largest in the past century. It's impacts will be far-reaching. It is not the time to be idle. If the European Union does improve search and rescue operations in the coming weeks we can expect the death toll to be appalling. Let's consider that today marks the centeniary of the start of the Armenian Genocide. Let's learn from our long history of inaction.