Perilous voyages do not deter refugees desperately seeking better lives
SOME 60 people drowned after a fishing vessel carrying 100 migrants and asylum-seekers, mostly Syrians, Iraqis and Palestinians trying to flee the violence in war-torn Syria, hit rocks off the coast of Turkey.
This incident is a tragic illustration that desperate people will do anything in search of safety and a better life, including a perilous voyage at sea. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, last year was a record in terms of boat arrivals in Europe and in the number of drownings.
More than 58,000 people reached the shores of Europe, but more than 1,500 people drowned or went missing in making the journey across the Mediterranean from North Africa.
As the UN refugee agency reported on Tuesday that nearly a quarter of a million have fled Syria, there is every likelihood that more lives could be lost at sea. To be sure, most of the influx has been across the border into Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. But large numbers could try to press on into Europe.
For geographical reasons, the majority would no doubt not attempt the voyage through Spain, Italy or Malta, but would head for Greece.
The greater probability is that most would cross overland into Europe through the Greek-Turkish border at the river Evros, as evidenced by the big jump in the number of Syrians detected trying to do so in the first six months of this year by Frontex, the European Union border agency, and the action taken by Greece to post an additional 1,800 guards to the 600 already at the border.
But as the 100 missing and presumed dead when a boat packed with refugees from Afghanistan and Pakistan sank south of Indonesia at the end of last week underscore, neither great distance nor unseaworthy boats has deterred determined people from risking their lives to escape violence and conflict.
More than 9,800 have arrived by boat from Indonesia to Australia this year, more than double last year's total, and 300 people have lost their lives at sea since December.
Similar tragedies involving migrants and refugees occur regularly in the Gulf of Aden, the Red Sea, Caribbean Sea, and the Indian Ocean.
It is hard not to be moved by the plight of those who are prepared to risk their lives in search of a better future. Of course, something must be done to prevent such tragedies.
But, unfortunately, as long as the countries of origin do not find durable solutions to the problems which force people to leave their homes, there is no easy answer.