Imagine you're serving on a U.S. ship in the Mediterranean when you come upon a group of people drowning.
Their boat is disintegrating and dozens of people are struggling to stay afloat. Another dozen have already perished; their bodies float in the water around the survivors. What do you do?
Both human kindness and international law dictate that you help them, of course. And according to The Daily Beast, that's just what sailors on the USNS Trenton did when they came across a group of migrants whose boat had failed off the coast of Libya. The Navy warship brought the 40 survivors aboard and offered them food, water, and medical care.
The problem was that they didn't know what to do with them next.
A child being rescued in the Mediterranean in 2016. Thousands of people drown each year trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach safer shores. Photo via Aris Messinis/Getty Images.
They couldn't return them to Libya because migrants were fleeing violence there, and the law required they be dropped at a "safe harbor." Transferring them to an nongovernmental organization's migrant rescue ship bound for Italy would make sense, but Italy's new interior minister was in the midst of enacting strong anti-immigrant policies, including turning away migrant rescue ships at entry ports. Other nations have been tightening their borders as well, so this U.S. warship has found itself in the middle of a European standoff over migration with nowhere to take a group of vulnerable people.
The global migration crisis has led to complex questions with no simple answers.
More than 1.8 million migrants have arrived in Europe since 2014, most of them fleeing violence and conflict in North Africa and the Middle East. Globally, there are 65 million displaced people who have been forced to leave their homes to find safety.
We are facing a global refugee crisis of massive proportions with no simple solutions.
Photo via AFP Contributor/Getty Images.
It should be a given that when a human being is suffering or in danger, other human beings step up and help out.
But on a global level, who should be stepping up and helping refugees and to what extent? How do you share the load when some nations flatly refuse? At what point do wealthy nations say, "We'd love to help, but we're all tapped out?" And at what point do you look into the face of an innocent child trapped in the most tragic circumstances and tell them, "Sorry, find help someplace else"?
These are questions that governments and individual citizens find themselves grappling with. In the meantime, thousands of people are dying each year trying to get to safety.
The refugee crisis is horrible — but not hopeless. We can use our voices and our wallets to save lives.
Governments have a host of issues to consider when making hard decisions about where to place resources and how to mold policy. But ultimately, they work for the citizenry. One thing we can do to help the most vulnerable is to let our government know we want our country to do more.
Under the Trump administration, the U.S. has cut the number of refugees we take by more than half, from Obama's 2017 goal of 110,000 to a 2018 limit of 45,000. According to the International Rescue Committee, we are actually slated to bring in less than half that number of refugees by the end of 2018.
A Syrian family fled their homeland due to a brutal civil war. Photo via Dan Kitwood/Getty Images.
Just so we're clear, George W. Bush maintained an annual refugee ceiling of 70,000, even after the worst terrorist attack in history occurred on our soil. If we hit President Donald Trump's 45,000 refugee limit, that's still just one refugee per 10,000 Americans. And as Trump loves to tout, our economy is booming with unemployment at historic lows. Why aren't we doing more?
It's time to get on the horn to our government and ask that question.
Supporting organizations that help refugees is the most efficient way to provide immediate aid.
A number of highly rated organizations offer aid to refugees in various ways. Here are some you can donate to or volunteer with:
— International Rescue Committee. The IRC aids refugees and people whose lives are impacted by conflict and disaster.
— United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The UNHCR protects and support refugees at the request of a government or the U.N. itself.
— Doctors Without Borders. An international humanitarian organization, it provides medical aid where needs are the greatest.
— Refugees International. An independent organization (which means it receives no funding from governments or the U.N.), Refugees International advocates for protection and assistance for displaced people and promotes solutions to the refugee crisis.
— Mercy Corps. A global nongovernmental humanitarian aid organization, Mercy Corps helps people recover from crises due to economic, environmental, social, and political instability.
Humanity needs help, and those of us in developed, stable nations are in the best position to provide it. We know there are complex problems that need solving to turn the tide, but until we figure that out, let's keep pulling people from the water and doing what we can to keep them safe.