Sunday, 5 July 2015

Boat People

People are drowning and there’s not much I can do about it. How does that make me feel? Well, it’s good material for journalists, if nothing else. You see, I am not really a good humanitarian. It’s easy to write about being a humanitarian, but much harder to actually get out and do something. I am the apathy of modern man, I am the lifestyle which already has enough stress and strain to worry about such things as massacres and tsunamis. I just don’t have enough empathy in me.

So, I have decided to examine the boat people crisis from a completely amoral perspective. The perspective that many of us have and pretend not to have. This will not be pure opinion, and nor will it be diatribe; I wish to look at the problem a step removed from emotion. Let’s see what happens.

So, the problem, as it see, consists of two main parts. Firstly, (parts of) Africa suck so much that people are willing to risk death by drowning or starvation or shark, simply to not be on that continent any more. This is no small motivating factor. The second part of the problem is that (despite what may be said) Europe has no want or need for boat people. Europe is ‘full’, its infrastructure strained, its cities crowded, its denizens tired of being relied upon to police the world.

From this perspective, the easiest thing to do is nothing. Boats sink, people go away, problem solves itself. A more practical approach is to sink the boats, just to make sure. A lot of these modern warships have guns, too. A bullet costs a lot less than a detention centre.

Another solution would be, just to fix Africa. If Africa is nice, people will want to stay there. I mean, how hard could it be? Just because efforts have been ongoing for the last fifty years, doesn’t mean the problem is insurmountable. A lot of the mess was caused by Europe, so logically Europe could help clean it up.

What else? I suppose we could make Europe an unattractive destination. If we mess up Spain and Italy and Portugal and Greece until they’re indistinguishable from the Sudan or Libya or Egypt, then staying or going becomes a moot point. We can do this either directly or indirectly. The direct way involves bombing cities, destroying infrastructure, and generally allowing corruption and dictatorships to exist wherever they spring up. (On this last point, we’ve already got a head start.) The indirect way is almost easier. We simply open our borders to as many people want to come here, and that way the services, hospitals, housing, roads and son which currently exist will very quickly become overwhelmed and unfit for purpose. Also, the angry religious people who don’t like us will come, spreading fear and destruction and murder and their own version of the law.

I’m not really sure what other options there are, from an amoral perspective.

From a moral perspective, the situation is still complicated, although, if you value human life, it quickly becomes apparent that the right thing to do is to pluck people out of the sea and save them from death. But then what? What happens to these people? Does anyone have a reliable estimate of just how many people are making the journey to Europe? How much food and water and housing do we have, and it is enough? Do we give it to them before we feed and clothe and vaccinate our own citizens? We could probably spare some of the tons of food we throw away every year, despite it being edible, and I understand there are still a lot of places where people don’t live, but maybe those places are empty because people can’t survive there.

Do we send people back to Africa, possibly to death by bullet or starvation? Do we conscript them into an army to fight Isis? Do we tell them that maybe they might want to try and fight to make their countries better, the way millions of people before them have done, instead of running away? How could you tell that to a man whose family means more to him than anything in the world?


I have a lot of questions, but not many answers. And, like I said, I’m not really doing anything to help solve the problem. My ‘fix Africa’ idea hasn’t really taken off, and so I’m not really sure what else can be done. But I have bills to pay, and global warming to stress about, so I’ll worry about the boat people another day.