Toward a good strategy for Rotarian involvement in the maritime migration of persecuted and otherwise abandoned mothers, fathers and children seeking safety, security and other human rights.

This letter was sent to us by Ann Frisch, a Senior Adviser to Nonviolent Peaceforce and an Incoming Rotarian Action Group for Peace Board Member. Ann can be reached at: [email protected].

The world is paralyzed over the thousands of families escaping poverty and persecution in Myanmar, Bangladesh, and crossing the Mediterranean from Africa. These migrants are so desperate to leave their violent surroundings that they take their chances of starvation and drowning, or, being captured by human traffickers, as they leave their country. Their arrival at ports in Italy, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia are exacerbated by the efforts to control traffickers from preying on them. Moreover, there are fears by potential host countries that a generous offer for offer safe haven to a few will become a deluge of immigrants with the accompanying economic and social disruptions.

The European Union is contemplating sinking the boats run by traffickers in order to save the disasters at sea and protect their land from the invasion. (It’s not clear to me how you would do that without casualties to the migrants).

UNHCR in Bangkok has not answered my query about how might a civil society organization could help. I’m sure days are very long there. UN-SPIDER with its vast communication network is limited in its mission (and limited funding) “to have access to and develop the capacity to use all types of space-based information to support the full disaster management cycle” (quoting the General Assembly mandate). Meanwhile, the rest of us in our comfortable homes with food, clean water and the ability to cross international boundaries in complete safety, are horrified at the inability of even the United Nations to sort this out.  Our tickets and visas already in hand assuring us that we will be welcomed by Rotary International and host country representatives to São Paulo next week.

How can Rotarians work towards a resolution to this problem?

  • We’d take advantage of our time together at the Rotary Peace Symposium and Rotary International Convention in São Paulo to have an emergency session on best practices and strategies related to migration.
  • We’d take advantage of Rotary club meetings in Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar and Bangladesh, Italy and African clubs to convene a discussion of Rotarians within these countries to pause to consider what strategies are in their own power that would help to mitigate and resolve the conflict. An example might be reaching out to the Rohingya who already have found their safe haven in Malaysia and are waiting for their family members to arrive safely.
  • We’d dialogue with Rotary Peace Fellows, both alumni and current students, from these countries. We’d ask them for a situation that we could help with.

What is needed is a good strategy.

  • At what point in the problem can we most effectively intervene?
  • Can we provide protection to the children who otherwise will be taken by traffickers? Can we help integrate and welcome those who are already settling into their new country?

What is needed is nonpartisanship.

  • Can we let go of personal biases for a moment, listen, and spark our moral imagination?

What is needed is a belief that we can make a difference.

  • Using the concept of Peace from the Inside Out, can we identify people from this region who we have known and worked with, as colleagues and as beneficiaries of our economic development projects, maternal and child clinics, water and sanitation projects, schools? Can we bring them together to offer connections, ideas and possible solutions?

It is clear that this is a matter for Rotarian Action Group for Peace. For those who believe that development will bring peace, and for those who believe that we must act to do conflict prevention and resolution in order to get to development, the question is: Can we mobilize our collective minds and hearts to at least consider some good strategies?

For those of you who will be in São Paulo next week, here are two times that we can meet:

Rotary Peace Symposium

Please come by the Rotarian Action Group for Peace table and we can connect and decide on a time to gather.