JEAN-JACQUES CORNISH: It’s crunch time for refugees everywhere


The wind picks up on the sea these late summer evenings, whipping up the waves. If one hopes to navigate the Mediterranean with any safety in a small boat, it had best be before winter turns the water colder and rougher.

So, this is a crucial time for those fleeing conflict and persecution back home - or simply wishing to feed a family - by crossing the Mediterranean and finding shelter in Europe.

Indeed, it is crunch time for refugees everywhere as the spotlight is turned on them by the United Nations General Assembly starting in New York.

The bigoted Matteo Salvini, who aligned himself with United States President Donald Trump in making cruelty a policy for deterring migrants, has disappeared for now as Italy’s Interior Minister. The full effect of this has yet to be revealed.

But for now, captains of rescue ships do not risk imprisonment by taking aboard those cynically thrown to their fate by people smugglers.

Some relief then for those taking this route to Europe. Their numbers have dramatically diminished: About a tenth of the number crossing three year ago. But the Mediterranean claims proportionately more of their lives.

Thanks to the efforts of the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, fewer of them will be taken to Libya where they face detention in appalling conditions, or worse.

The country rendered ungovernable after the fall of Muammar Gadaffi is no longer an easy option for European countries trying to reduce the migrant wave.

This does not mean European countries will take appreciably more people from Africa and the Middle East.

No more than the United States will welcome those from Central and South American countries seeking safer, better lives.

Indeed, South Africa will not be able to take in all those Africans coming across the Limpopo and the Kruger National Park.

One must hope an international understanding can be reached that there is a universal responsibility to provide a refuge.

Jean-Jacques Cornish is an Africa correspondent at Eyewitness News. Follow him on Twitter: @jjcornish