Over the past several years, the 10-man crew of the main Greek coast guard boat has had the depressing job of patrolling the front lines of the largest mass migration into Europe since World War II. At first they would find a single boat, maybe two, in a day. But by the end of summer, the Greek coast guard was totally overwhelmed. They encountered boat after boat after boat—sometimes eight or ten in a row–filled with Syrians fleeing for their lives. More than a quarter of a million reached the Greek islands on their way to asylum in Western Europe.
The sheer scale of the migrant flight has left Europe with no articulate response. And goodness knows, we Americans are of little help.
But what is so soul-numbing is the utter desperation of the Syrian people. Many paid smugglers more than $1,000 each for tickets onto a boats packed so far beyond capacity that the people knew they might never make it across the sea. Still, they had to try. When one coast guardsman approached a dangerously overcrowded flimsy rubber boat, a weeping man jumped up and thrust his infant son into the stranger’s arms, then collapsed in tears.
In the wee hours of a late September morning, the coast guard boat captain told his men, “Get ready to go for the next one.” He had already seen it on the radar—another inflatable dingy overloaded with still more desperate people. And another behind it.
Heaven help us all.
“What experience and history teach is this: that people and governments have never learned anything from history.”
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, German philosopher