Sunday 18 February 2018

'Unlike drug smugglers human traffickers don't mind losing their contraband' - Irish aid worker on Mediterranean migrant crisis

David Adams, an aid worker with Goal, in Syria
David Adams, an aid worker with Goal, in Syria
Sarah Stack

Sarah Stack

An Irish aid worker has warned that tens of thousands of migrants are risking their lives in treacherous sea crossings because they have a greater chance of surviving than if they remained at home.

David Adams, an aid worker with Dublin-based Goal, maintains that the European Union, United Nations and other world powers are ‘mere window-dressing’ and wasting their time by declaring war on people traffickers and attempting to introduce a quota system/

More than 62,500 illegal migrants attempted to cross the Mediterranean to Italy in the first four months of this year, with at least 1,800 drowning when their vessels sank.

Between the start of January and the end of May 2015, at least 21,745 people crossed the Aegean from Turkey to Greece.

Mr Adams said migrants desperate for a new life face a higher chance of dying by staying in Syria or risk conscription to the country’s armed forces.

“What drives the growing numbers of people prepared to risk their lives on dangerous sea crossings?” he said.

“The question of motivation need hardly be raised in respect of someone fleeing Syria.

“For them, whatever the risks involved, it is more dangerous to stay at home. No surprise, then, that a substantial number of the people attempting to cross the Mediterranean are from Syria. And Syrians account for virtually all of the migrants going from Turkey to Greece.”

Mr Adams said there are at least two million Syrian refugees living in Turkey, however many want to go on to mainland Europe for greater opportunities.

“As many Syrians have told me, they are being pushed from where they live by intolerable conditions, and being pulled by the freedoms and opportunities that Europe has to offer,” he said.

The aid worker criticised the UN and EU and claimed that rather than seriously tackle major "push" factors, they have decided instead to declare war on people traffickers.

In a keynote speech in Dublin this week, United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon called for a crackdown on people smugglers and met resettled migrants from Syria and Congo at an event in Farmleigh.

Read more: Ban Ki-moon calls for action on migrants in Mediterranean

“This is disturbingly reminiscent of other declarations of war on amorphous enemies, such as terror and drugs - and probably destined to have similar levels of success,” Mr Adams said.

David Adams of Goal in Syria
David Adams of Goal in Syria
In this picture released on Wednesday, May 20, 2015 by the website of Islamic State militants, an Islamic State fighter fires his weapon during a battle against Syrian government forces on a road between Homs and Palmyra, Syria. (The website of Islamic State militants via AP)
FILE - This file photo released on Sunday, May 17, 2015, by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows the general view of the ancient Roman city of Palmyra, northeast of Damascus, Syria. (SANA via AP, File)
This picture released on Sunday, May 24, 2015, by a militant website which had been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting shows Syrian government soldiers who were captured by Islamic state militants in Palmyra area in Syria. (Militant website via AP)
Fighters on the road from Homs to Paylmyra before the fall of Palmyra
CEO of Goal Barry Andrews with some locals in Harem Northern Idleb Governate Syria in 2013

“If anything, people trafficking is even more difficult to disrupt than drug smuggling.

“Unlike drug smugglers, the traffickers don't mind losing their contraband, fortunes having been made in advance of the "commodity" being shipped off.”

Mr Adams said traffickers are a symptom of the problem, but not the cause.

“Closed borders have created a market for them... If people cannot move legally between countries in pursuit of better economic opportunities, there will always be others eager to exploit the situation,” he added.

“For a number of reasons, EU quotas will not alleviate the situation. They are mere window-dressing.

“There always has been and always will be economic migrants. And this will remain the case, irrespective of all else. It is the most natural thing in the world to want to move to where prospects for self and family are enhanced. Goodness knows, enough of our ancestors did it.

“But such has been the level of public discourse on the subject, the term "economic migrant" has been reduced to the pejorative."

Mr Adams said perhaps we will soon be forced to remember just how vital economic migration.

"If for no other reason than the EU's working-age population is set to decline by 17.5 million over the next decade. Perhaps then, common sense - if not common humanity - will begin to prevail," he added.

"Perhaps someday, even, common humanity will indeed begin to prevail. And we will start to seriously address the root causes rather than the overt symptoms of mass migration."

*David Adams, from Lisburn in Northern Ireland, has been with Goal for 10 years and has worked in Niger, Uganda, Kenya, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, and Syria. The NGO has more than 350 staff in Syria, which are all nationals.

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