A Calls-to-Action Blog. Writers. Thinkers. Doers.

A Crisis in the News



The refugee crisis is the most important issue in international news. Media negligence has allowed human rights abuses to go unaccounted for at every step along the migration trail.


Let’s begin with the exodus.


Ibrahim Diallo Manzo // IRIN


West Africans crossing the Sahara. Nigerians, Eritreans, Ethiopians, Liberians… their safety lies beyond the sand. Countless heads on a single vehicle. A bottle of water to share between two. You can’t sleep because you have to hold on. If you fall off you are left behind.


If you do not know this, we have a crisis in our news.


Aris Messinis // Agence France-Press


Syrians, Afghans, Kurds on the Aegean. Rohingya fleeing Myanmar by sea. Haitians in the Bahamas. If you’re above deck try not to move, if you’re below deck try not to breathe. Lest you sink, lest you suffocate. I forgot to mention the Mediterranean, the deadliest crossing in the world.


With rescue missions being criminalised we have chosen to let children drown for the sake of deterrence.


If you do not know this, we have a crisis in our news.


Taha Jawashi // Agence France-Presse


Who rules these routes? Traffickers of course. When there is no legal recourse to safe passage, traffickers build the road to refuge.


In Libya, traffickers hold people for months or years before putting them on boats, using them as a source of free, forced labour. Or they will torture them, while their families listen on the phone, as their son has molten plastic poured down his back. They are told they must pay to make it stop.


In these facilities people die of malnutrition. People die of disease. There are no toilets so people defecate on themselves. Then they cannot wash.


If you do not know this, we have a crisis in our news.



Women are the most valuable to slave traders.


Rape is so normalised on this trail that almost every African migrant woman will be abused at some point on her journey to Europe. It is common practice among Eritrean, Somali and Sudanese women to get contraceptive injections before they leave, though this cannot prevent disease. If a woman cannot afford full fare for a crossing, rape is considered a form of supplementary payment. Rape happens on the boats in front of everybody.


If you do not know this, our media are failing.


Media exist to hold authorities to account. Well, we cannot separate our authorities from what is happening when €136 million of EU funding goes towards Libyan coastguard and detention facilities, while there is no illusion about how embroiled these authorities are in the mafia slave trade.


In Libya, the policeman is a smuggler, and the smuggler is a police man

– Eritrean refugee


This is just one of many bilateral agreements the EU has with appalling authorities, like the Sudanese, the Egyptian, the Nigerian, and the Turkish (to name a few). We tie development aid to the condition that these governments trap migrants within their borders or let us “repatriate” refugees. Hereby we break the international law principle of non-refoulement: not returning a person to a country where they face torture or inhumane abuse.


If you do not know this, there is a crisis in our news.


EU governments boast about their records of repatriation. 1/3 of repatriated Sudanese refugees are now starving in internal displacement camps.


Deportation is so feared that a refugee named Manuel Bravo hanged himself from his cell in a UK detention centre the day before he and his 13-year-old son were due to be deported back to Angola. He knew authorities couldn’t deport his son without a living parent. He died on his 35th birthday.


If you don’t know this, but you do know Jennifer Lawrence is getting married, there is your crisis in the news.



The next stop on our trail is camp.


Due to a process of “outsourcing asylum” (AKA externalising the problem out of sight, out of mind) millions of people are living in squalid and lawless communities we call refugee camps. Journalists pass through these camps for the scoop, but they rarely stay for prolonged periods, meaning there is no continuous scrutiny.


Where scrutiny is lacking, you will find in its place gross abuses of power by lawful (and yes, Western European) authorities. Among others.


At the US-Mexico border, children are still being separated from their parents. They are also being sexually assaulted by US border control agents.


In Greece’s Moria camp, non-existent law enforcement makes murder an everyday fear. Negligence is murder itself. Many die in winter, if not from the cold then from huddling so closely around tiny gas fires that they choke to death on the fumes.


If you do not know this, we have a crisis in our news.


Jack Taylor // Getty Images


Calais is squalid and shit. There is scabies and tuberculosis, and the police brutality is enough to shatter any faith you have in authority. Unprovoked, sadistic riot police racially abuse refugees, teargas refugees, beat refugees, steal their shoes, slash their tents, set fire to their sleeping bags…



They also accept bribes from the mafias.


Some months ago, border police near Dunkirk open fired on an unarmed vehicle driven by a mafia member and filled with refugee families trying to reach the UK. They shot a two-year-old girl called Mawda through the face and she died on site while no ambulance arrived for over an hour. You probably didn’t read about it in the British press because it happened the week that Prince Harry married Meghan Markle.



If you haven’t heard of Mawda, there’s your crisis in the news.




If you’re lucky enough to reach your country of destination, a country you have chosen because of its immaculate human rights record, you may disappear for some time. In the UK we detain irregular immigrants indefinitely (I know of a nine year case) with no judicial process and no accountability for what goes on in the centres. The rule of law does not prevail.


If you don’t know this, our media have failed.


If you are especially lucky, you won’t be detained but will be allowed to join society as a sort of semi-member or ‘asylum-seeker’. You won’t be given many rights though. In the UK as in many countries, your right to work will be withheld.


We seriously underestimate and under-report the mental toll taken when you are denied the right to work, to show something for your years on this planet, to have a promise of tomorrow. Depression, self-harm and suicide are too commonplace among asylum-seekers, who are regularly held in this transitory existence long beyond what international law allows.


In the EU we have something called the Dublin Regulation, whereby we oblige asylum-seekers to place their application in the first EU country in which they land. This means that if inland countries such as the UK, Germany or Denmark receive an application, the first thing they will do is see if that person has been fingerprinted elsewhere. If so, they will return their application to that (probably highly saturated, borderland) country to be processed. That country will probably appeal this decision triggering a governmental ping-pong that often carries on illegally for many years. Chunks of people’s lives are gambled away in a bureaucratic hot potato of shouldered responsibility.


Home offices around the world are breaking the law because they know international courts won’t hold them to account, and refugees can’t afford to. This is the purpose of the media, the Fourth Estate, the watchdog; this is why we value free speech (not for the white man’s ‘right to offend’).


Marko Djurica // Reuters

Before the media are here to entertain and gossip and scaremonger, they are here to hold authorities to account and tell us what is happening in this world.


WHY does this stuff only hit front page with us being the ones in crisis? ‘Our’ shores being approached by ‘Channel migrants’; an IS bride (that the UK bred) wanting to come home. Who the hell do we think we are? This crisis is atrocious but we are not its victims.


We are the ones who can help. We are the juries of our governments.


In the refugee crisis we see the collapse of the rule of law and human rights at every step along the way, including in our own countries. Not that that distinction should strictly matter, except that our very identity is founded on certain moral ideologies that inform our entire news agenda, so if we are to pursue that agenda with any credibility then we must duly observe what is happening here.


These things I’ve written may seem shocking. But they shouldn’t shock you. They shouldn’t even surprise you. They should be in our media. We should know: they are the logical and inevitable consequences when a refugee crisis meets a closed border policy.


Whatever your stance, be aware of that. When you talk about it, when you write about it. Know the stakes of the debate; the lives at price.


They are why the refugee crisis is the most important issue in the news.


At least it should be.



More articles by Tilda



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *