Media focuses on a single dog but turns away from people drowning in the Med

A migrant vomits as he and others are rescued by a Migrant Offshore Aid Station, MOAS team in the central Mediterranean Sea this August. (AP Photo/Manu Brabo)
A migrant vomits as he and others are rescued by a Migrant Offshore Aid Station, MOAS team in the central Mediterranean Sea this August. (AP Photo/Manu Brabo)

The plight of Hank the dog, who was on trial for being a pit bull terrier type, recently made headlines in newspapers and on social media across the world.

A petition to save him attracted tens of thousands of signatures alongside celebrity support. Compare this to a recent week where 170 refugees drowned in the Mediterranean and only a line or two appeared on the story in a few newspapers.

Migrants gather around Croatian police officers guarding a border between Serbia and Croatia, near the village of Babska, Croatia, late last year. Croatia, which has erected relatively few shelters along its borders with Serbia and Slovenia, directed thousands into special trains and bus convoys Tuesday to Slovenia. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

Migrants gather around Croatian police officers guarding a border between Serbia and Croatia, near the village of Babska, Croatia, late last year. Croatia, which has erected relatively few shelters along its borders with Serbia and Slovenia, directed thousands into special trains and bus convoys Tuesday to Slovenia. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

I am deeply concerned that as the world’s media has turned its focus away from the refugee crisis, government red tape, over-zealous use of authority and in some instances, a denial of basic human rights, is being allowed to flourish in many of the camps that have been set up in Greece and France.

Just because we no longer see news coverage of refugees arriving on the shores of western Europe doesn’t mean that the situation has resolved and each has suddenly found a wonderful new life. If anything, this man-made, 21st century disaster is getting worse and it is showing no sign of abating. It has, however, lost its ‘shock’ factor and we have become immune to the suffering of our fellow human beings.

The sad truth is that we are simply not doing enough and burying our heads in the sand appears to be an acceptable response. It is not and cannot be the answer to this disaster. By idly standing by, either through indifference or ignorance, we are perpetuating the worst refugee crisis since World War II. Millions have been displaced, thousands have been killed and governments, who seem to be more worried about votes than human beings, dismiss the true extent of the disaster.

For the people in refugee camps across Europe, who have journeyed so far for a chance of a life, there is no real security. Many former doctors, dentists, teachers and nurses, who provided vital resources within their communities, are now being treated abysmally in sites, many of which are run by the police and army. I have seen first-hand that, even though there was much-needed food in the warehouse, the army wouldn’t let our volunteer team distribute it to the refugees. As the warehouse had no chiller facilities, the food spoiled and had to be dumped. Heartbreaking, wasteful and so unnecessary. On another occasion, the army wouldn’t let our team give out water supplies unless the refugees and our volunteers did work for them. It is hard to believe that this could be the case, today, in the 21st century in Europe.

Conditions in the camps are appalling – beyond our worst nightmares. Sick children and adults are mostly ignored and it is left to volunteers to obtain medical aid and purchase medication for them. One of the army-run camps, with more than 1000 refugees, is surrounded by a razor wire. Volunteers and the media are not allowed to enter the site and the refugees get just one meal a day. One solitary meal.

In some camps the police have taken away the few meagre items that families have, including their means of cooking. We have heard how they also took refugees’ water, with some police pouring it out while others drank it to satisfy their own thirst in the 40+ degree heat. What about the basic human right to water – this is the ‘first-world’ afterall?

The entire situation is a massive failure on humanity, volunteers are losing the battle to feed and help the refugees. There is talk of aid money being given by governments and I have been in a lot of camps and I can’t see where this money is benefitting the refugees. I have to ask the question - where is it going?

I am personally concerned that it’s being spent on building and manning encampments that are akin to concentration camps where refugees are being kept like prisoners of war. If this is the case, this is simply unacceptable and morally wrong. This money could and should be used to better refugees’ daily lives and alleviate the suffering of those who have lost everything through no fault of their own.

All human beings should be treated with dignity and respect.

Our governments and our politicians are not doing enough.

I am appealing for our politicians and decision-makers to stop pretending this crisis isn’t happening and to do more. Today. Right now. Please help.

Aidan Crawford, President, Northern Region, Society of St Vincent de Paul