Congratulations Yusra Mardini on winning your women’s 100 meters swimming heat at this year’s Olympics! We are very glad to follow such exciting coverage of the first ever Refugee Olympic Team participating in the Rio Olympic Games. Although it is sad to note that media attention has largely moved on from the stories of those people who continue to make the dangerous crossing between MENA and Europe by boat, which Mardini and her sister remember only too well. Just over a year ago, they were in the frigid waters of the Aegean Sea using their swimming abilities to save the lives of others on the broken down boat they had been travelling on. Tragically, she has not been joined on the historic team this year by 2008 Beijing Olympian Samia Omar, who after running the 200 meters as a representative of Somalia, later had to stop training: first because the extremist group Al Shabaab banned sports in her home country; then later due to her flight from persecution and confinement in a refugee camp. Tragically, Omar lost not only her chance to compete but also her life, whilst seeking safety and the opportunity to participate in the London Olympics of 2012, by crossing the Mediterranean Sea irregularly. How many more hopes, dreams and talents will be wasted before changes take place, which will end such senseless loss of life?
As effectively highlighted in this opinion piece by IDC MENA Regional Advisor, Dr Melissa Phillips, the dangerous and exploitative conditions which drive many refugees and migrants to and through the MENA region still exist and are in some cases worsening. Many people are forced to seek irregular pathways to move on to Europe because too few legal avenues to asylum or work rights exist. These push factors, including unnecessary immigration detention, are unfortunately stagnating as a result of EU policy, rather than being solved through exploration of innovative alternatives to detention. As Dr Phillips says, perhaps:
“…[If] schemes for temporary labour migration were piloted, migrants and refugees would have viable alternatives to risky and unsafe irregular migration by boat…”
As the IDC we believe in exploring and promoting viable alternatives to immigration detention and partnering with local civil society, international agencies and governments to expand their use. As such, if you have any information to contribute to our current research project about refugee and migrant community support programmes in North Africa, please contact Junita Calder, MENA and Africa Regional Coordinator of the IDC via email firstname.lastname@example.org