I often reflect on the blessed circumstances of my life against the backdrop of violence, destruction and sadism which festers like an open sore in many parts of our multifaceted world. During these occasions, I often ask myself what perk of destiny saw me being born into the latter collective of humanity rather than the former grouping, that being the total number of refugees recorded by the UNHCR in 2018? Many of us have had blessings bestowed on us by the nationality listed on our passport or birth certificate. I am among their number. Many of us instinctively know what this blessing means when we extend succor, shelter and sanctuary to those being ground down under the boot of government oppression, organized discrimination, targeted violence or ongoing war. However, many among the cynical, the nihilistic, the mendacious, the manipulative and the bigoted, who themselves are propped up by the government, media and opinion classes, have collectively summoned up a toxic cloud of resentment. This cloud has enveloped many in a shroud of some of the worst aspects of human nature. It’s malign influence has manipulated societies rich enough to support refugees into averting their collective gaze from them.
As I write this, the world is witnessing the largest amount of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people in it’s recorded history. Despite the establishment of numerous UN treaties as well as multiple regional frameworks, where the right to seek asylum within the borders of one’s intended country of settlement has been consistently affirmed and reaffirmed, the privileged, powerful and often demagogic ruling elites in the developed world, global North and Anglophone West have descended fully into a deficiency of decency by accepting shamefully low numbers of asylum seeker applications. They do this while indirectly, yet callously, shifting this burden to economically disadvantaged countries. My current home of Japan, while donating generously to the UNHCR since 2000, regularly sees resettlement in the dozens. The USA, the founder of the entire United Nations system that theoretically placed human rights at the forefront of international diplomacy and development, has darkened its self appointed reputation as the shining city on a hill by reducing it’s humanitarian migration intake from 110,000 people in 2016 to roughly 18,000 people in 2019. This trend is even more disheartening when we would like to think that the recent COVID-19 pandemic was more likely to open up our hearts rather than harden them.
Since the refugee crisis of 2015, those seeking the universal ideal of a life whose predominant characteristics are pacifism over terrorism, pluralism over fundamentalism, abundance over want have been systematically stigmatized and officially sanctioned. The case of the El Hiblu Three, three teenage boys who have been charged in Malta with several offences, including that of terrorism, is a personalized case where the malicious agency of the former has led to the latter. The boys, three passengers among a total of 108 souls rescued by the Hiblu 1 cargo ship after their dinghy had encountered trouble, were playing the roles of negotiators in a volatile situation. In reality, they interpreted for their fellow passengers when threatened with forced return to Libya, a country still convulsing from civil war that has been described as ‘possibly the largest drone war theater in the world’ and one where torture and death is a grim fact of life. Instead of hijacking a ship that upon making port showed no sign of struggle nor of damage as they have been accused of doing, they were simply advocating for what we as human beings should all have the inherent freedom to claim. Instead of looking at spending what’s left of their salad years in safety and security, they are now contemplating potential life imprisonment.
As part of this year’s Amnesty International Write for Rights campaign, I have written to the Attorney General of the government of Malta, Dr. Victoria Buttigieg, to have these charges dropped. I strongly encourage all reading this blog to harness your compassion, your creativity, your energies into helping free these three young men. Through a deviation of chance, they could have been any of our sons or brothers, classmates or neighbors.
If you don’t have the time to write a letter, please sign the official Amnesty International petition regarding this case, share the details on social media and bring it to the attention of your friends, your family, and your colleagues. Please also know that Amnesty has taken up the mantle of 10 other human rights defenders as well as other individuals for this year’s Write for Rights campaign.
In this time when overwhelming currents seem to be sweeping over us, it’s easy to feel as though we are powerless. It can be tempting to surrender to apathy. To convince ourselves that the scope of the challenges are too great, and our agency too limited.
My friends, I utterly reject that sentiment.
Any actions you can take may feel miniscule. Individually, they are progressive steps towards bending that famous and long moral arc of the universe towards justice. Collectively, they are a chorus that can ring in the tin ears of the worst despots. By participating in this campaign, you can make a difference.
Humanity is better than this. Let’s prove it!
Yours in solidarity,