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Deaths of more refugees at sea a wake-up call

Stephen Oreilly

AFTER a period when numbers of refugees attempting to reach Europe seemed to be falling, it was shocking to hear that on Thursday 4,000 people were rescued in 22 separate operations by various navies and coastguards.

Sadly it is believed that at least 20 people drowned with the distinct possibility being that many more perished in a number of vessels which were found empty.

Most if not all of these attempts to flee wars in a number of countries seemed to have originated in Libya.

Yesterday David Cameron announced that his country was sending another warship to the area in an attempt to help with the rescue of refugees from the Mediterranean but also to deter further attempts to flee to countries like Greece and Turkey.

It is heartless to call the situation in the region 'a problem', although that is how the phenomenon of refugees is regarded by many in Europe who feel threatened by the influx of people.

It is important that as fellow human beings we try to understand what the people who are attempting the often perilous sea crossing have undergone to make them take such a dangerous course of action.

Many of them have endured long periods of war where they have lost homes, possessions and loved ones as they have been pushed around the region by the various armed groups and government forces.

They may also have undergone lengthy periods of near-starvation conditions and had to live in camps or the ruins of what was once their homes.

Indeed it is hard to comprehend just what horrors most of these people have endured before finally deciding that the best thing they can do for themselves or their families is to pay an extortionate price to buy passage on a flimsy vessel, inadequately crewed, invariably overcrowded and with a minimal chance of reaching their intended destination.

Leaving aside the argument that many of the reasons behind the conflicts which have left their countries in turmoil were the result of actions carried out by European and other international powers, there is a compelling reason why none of us should ignore the plight of these people. They are human beings like us.

David Cameron's actions in sending another warship to the region may help save many lives. That is to be welcomed.

But a twin-track approach of pulling people from the water and landing them back where they came from cannot be the sum total of what the world does.

Surely a more constructive approach must be taken to help these people rebuild their lives and the futures of their children.

For that to happen and to prevent them from attempting such dangerous journeys, helping their countries get back to a peaceful existence must be high on the agenda.

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