The ongoing European migrant crisis in nations such as Italy, Greece and Hungary has had frequently fatal consequences for refugees traveling from Syria and other war-torn nations in the Middle East or North Africa. While this news topic has often made headline news in 2015, it’s rare for me to have an opportunity to see beyond the camera lens. A few weeks ago while traveling with my family in Messina, Italy, I had the chance to see face-to-face a few of the millions of unfortunate victims of violence and oppression.
From the point of view of the cruise ship my family was staying on, the ultimate juxtaposition presented itself: A luxury cruise ship with passengers awaiting their next cocktail, right beside the Italian Navy who are rescuing refugees from a dinghy lost in the Mediterranean Sea. It was a humbling experience to watch women and children first exit the Navy vessel, stepping foot on European land for the first time, with just the clothes on their back and maybe a small bag. The migrant crisis is a fight for survival, as documented by this excellent article, “What Refugees Bring When They Run for Their Lives“.
Fortunately the Red Cross and many other humanitarian organizations are offering immediate assistance for the refugees who make it safely to Europe. The Pope has even called on all European Catholics to take in refugees if they have the means to do so. As you can see in the photo below, the refugees are first inspected for illness and disease before being bussed to a temporary housing location. This is what today’s Ellis Island looks like:
Video of this scene where I took photos was later aired on BBC News and various other International media outlets. But the media will fade, and this is just documentation of the beginning of their journey. Most will take refuge in central Europe, and many may never return home ever again.
What is next for these refugees? I don’t know exactly. But the collective story of over four million individuals and families displaced, people who are being pushed to the extremes of human willpower, is bound to shape the economic and political landscape of Europe for decades to come. May these struggling refugees not be forgotten, for they provide a certain reminder that freedom is never free.
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