THE BLOG

Don't Let 2016 Be the Year We Forgot About Migrants

06/01/2016 16:14 | Updated 07 January 2016

[Warning - some people may find the image below distressing]

Imagine bodies washing up on the beach in town popular with British tourists.

Imagine corpses becoming a regular feature, in a resort which people usually visit to relax and enjoy themselves.

Imagine men, women, and children in lines on the sand. No-one knows who they are, but they are becoming a common sight, close by to where holidaymakers eat, drink and swim.

It's like something from a horror movie, but it's happening.

Not in Brighton or anywhere else in the UK, but other popular holiday resorts visited by Brits. The latest was Ayvalik in Turkey.

Nine bodies, including children, washed up on a beach in Ayvalik on Tuesday. Seven more appeared on the shore of a beach 30 miles away, after a total of 36 people died when two boats packed with migrants sank.

Ayvalik is a small, beautiful coastal town, known for its seafood restaurants and olive oil production - and now bodies. Harvard University runs a Turkish Summer school there every year.

ayvalik

Some papers called the bodies at Ayvalik "a stark reminder of the depth of Europe's migrant crisis".

We shouldn't need a 'reminder' that dead humans are being tossed ashore in this humanitarian disaster, but we do. The reality is that the crisis is so huge, so unbearable, and in some ways so alien, that it's difficult to keep at the forefront of your mind.

Ayvalik is on the same side of Turkey as Bodrum, the place where the toddler Alan Kurdi was found drowned last September.

For me, the area he was found is full of happy memories. I've visited Bodrum often as a sort of second home. The contrast between my idyllic visits there - floating in the very waves that are killing desperate people - and the heartbreaking sights on so many of Turkey's beaches, is hard to process.

Alan Kurdi wasn't a one-off: many people died in this horrific way before him, many have since, and many are still to die.

The International Organisation for Migration estimates that 3,771 migrants died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe last year - the deadliest 12 months on record for people crossing the Mediterranean.

This grim nightmare, something we couldn't have imagined a few years ago, is becoming ordinary.

This is happening so often that Wikipedia's list of 'Migrant vessel incidents on the Mediterranean Sea' tragedies is divided into "Prior to 2015" and "2015" - with twice as many on the second list.

The number of deaths in 2015 is more than a third of the number estimated to have been killed altogether by the Islamic State, which has has executed more than 10,000 people since it came into being.

Many who drown are trying to escape such a fate, or death or persecution by other groups in Syria and Iraq, or other abuses in Africa. Instead, they die at the hands of smugglers who offer them a dangerous chance to reach Europe, creating what Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat called "nothing less than genocide".

But now, after the furore around the Alan Kurdi pictures, media coverage of the crisis has lessened as its become normalised, and if we're honest, we'd all rather look at a nice postcard of a seaside than some dead bodies.

But don't look away. History is happening - bad, dark, abominable history that will be written about in years to come. Don't let it be something you're only aware of then.

Last year the world woke up to the tragedy that is happening, thanks to the picture of Kurdi (despite years of civil war and millions of refugees already having been forced to flee). If 2015 was the year we came to understand, let's not let this year be the one when we forget.

Kurdi was called "Humanity washed ashore" - don't let our humanity wash back out to sea.

CONVERSATIONS