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2021 has been a year of turmoil. We may say it is not the first year of this kind, and it is not going to be the last one. Medecins Sans Frontieres – MSF, more commonly known as ‘Doctors Without Borders’ has been serving the people in turmoil for the last 50 years. It was started from France, hence the French name. Their volunteers are presently deployed in 100 countries and are serving people in war zones, drought and flooded areas, armed-conflict areas, illegal immigrants and more. At the end of 2021, it has posted ‘A Year in Pictures 2021’ which is worth sharing. I shall show some of these here. MSF provides medical assistance only; other forms of relief may come from other agencies.
Let us start from the situation which flashed into public view after 27 people drowned while crossing through English Channel from France to UK. The regular route on this side of the world is that the illegal immigrants reach Libya, from where they try to cross into Italy on the Central Mediterranean Sea. It is a daunting task which becomes riskier because the boats used by people smugglers are simple, inflatable, rubber boats. These are chosen because they do not create any noise, are filled to overcapacity, and run in the darkness of night. The rubber boats are light and are liable to capsize quickly, even with weight shifts. The journey is threatened by Libyan coast guards’ interception who get financial support from European countries trying to thwart illegal immigration. Those who make it to Italy are likely to be intercepted at the seashore by Italian coast guards. Italy has placed hundreds of illegal immigrants at an uninhabited island where basic facilities established for a few hundred people were used for several thousand. Of course, the situation was chaotic due to medical, food, and other issues.
MSF also runs a search and rescue ship – Geo Barents – which keeps scouring this part of Mediterranean Sea. When they spot an immigrant boat in trouble, they try to rescue the people before they may drown or may be intercepted. Sometimes these people had been on the sea for several days and may be deprived of food and water. MSF teams provide medical assistance mainly and bring them to shore safely. What happens next is another story. At least they are saved from drowning unceremoniously at the sea.
From Italy, the immigrants try to reach France on foot, but their ultimate destination is UK which holds the biggest promise for such immigrants. The last leg of this journey is via English Channel on a boat.
The hazards of this perilous journey to known to everyone, including the intending immigrants and their families. The danger of losing life is clear and present. Then why do people still opt for it? Certainly, no one is doing it for the sake of adventure. The reason is that the living conditions in countries from where immigrants come have become so appalling that life and death have become blurred. Story after story say the same thing. The whole families are suffering, and it becomes so much that one or two family members feel compelled to do something to alleviate the suffering of their parents, siblings, families, and children. They gather their last resources, pay to people smugglers, and embark upon a journey which is dangerous and unpredictable. True, that some or many people finally make it to the destination and that is the reason that the lure of ‘making it’ keeps working. Presently, millions of people are walking, running, floating as illegal immigrants in various parts of the world. Their priority is to reach US or Europe, and those who cannot reach there try to reach at least a neighboring country where there may be greater safety, food, livelihood, and medical assistance.
MSF has posted few pictures from one such rescue mission which was also supported by another volunteer organization, Pilots Without Borders.
It is clear that the solution to this problem is neither more restrictions nor more force. The sustainable solutions like cessation of support for armed conflicts and using diplomatic channels to bring end to wars are known and must be worked upon.
Meanwhile, organizations such as MSF are doing a commendable job and need our financial and moral support. I shall share some more activities in another area in the next post.
Disclaimer. Most pictures in these blogs are taken from Google Images which does not show anyone’s copyright claim. However, if any such claim is presented, we shall remove the image with suitable regrets.
Central African Republic: A visual journey through an ongoing conflict (msf.org)