Doomed Ship And Submersible: Mobilization Of Mass Media And Resources For The Wealthy But No Action For Migrants – OpEd


In our present society where the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen, social mobility for an ordinary person also continues to remain an illusion and the class privilege, on the other hand, becomes further rooted.

This was extremely apparent in the two recent incidents that occurred four days apart from each other: one fishing boat (Adriana) of approximately 750 migrants capsized on June 14th, 2023, while the authorities could have acted with an extreme sense of urgency to save lives watched the migrants drown in the Mediterranean Sea. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimated 596 migrants died in this tragedy. Another incident occurred on June 18th, 2023. The joy-ride submersible of five wealthy individuals was reported missing in the North Atlantic Ocean. The missing five wealthy individuals had every expert discussing the issue on every major news network and had many experts from various countries and private entities deploy all resources immediately to save the five lives.

How the mass media covered the stories of these two incidents and how the governments, private entities, and all the experts responded in case of one incident versus the other reflects a grim reality of the modern world, which is accepted and normalized as a social fact. The stark differences in the response of authoritative figures who were directly and indirectly involved in both situations and their outcomes is a prime example of the privileges granted to the wealthy versus the migrants in crisis who required every resource from governments and other organizations to help with their plight. In Silicon Valley, the exclusive non-profit Open Silicon Valley Organization took no time to share their sorrow for the loss of the wealthy Shahzada Dawood, a Pakistani who “graced” OPEN’s past conferences. Mention and sorrow over the death of 350 Pakistani migrants? None. Differences in classes, who remembers them, who associates with them, and who makes it known before the world are prime examples of social fact.

What is a social fact? According to Émile Durkheim, a social fact is a behavior, belief, or structure outside of individuals. Such a type of fact can influence individual thoughts, actions, and social interactions because of its coercive nature, which obliges the individual to conform to social norms and expectations. Additionally, social facts are shared, collectively held, and play a fundamental role in maintaining social order and unity. In the context of the two incidents, the social fact is that the wealthy receive all the class privileges from all social entities, private or governmental as an entitled benefit that comes with their class status. Such is the influence of class status upon the governmental institutions and other organizations who were swift to respond to the submersible, carrying the wealthy five. The wealthy received an immediate response from the media, government officials, and other organizations precisely because these men were rich and influential; therefore, a swift response to their tragedy is an expected response because of their class status.

Since class differences can be considered a social fact, such differences are external to individuals, meaning that these differences exist as a social structure that formulates and influences various aspects of life, including access to resources, power dynamics, and social mobility. They are a collective phenomenon, according to Durkheim, which is above individual experiences and have a significant impact on the lives of individuals within a society. As Richard Pérez-Peña noted in his article “5 Deaths at Sea Gripped the World. Hundreds of Others Got a Shrug” that “Status and race no doubt play a role in how the world responds to disasters.”

For the five wealthy individuals, the dangerous depth of oceans was open for “exploration” with no social or political barriers to stop them from risking their lives while the migrants in search of a safe land to live a dignified life are left to drown and limited from accessing a piece of land, be it anywhere on this planet. To save the wealthy, pulling the resources to reach the depths of the ocean and reaching those depths by any means was not a challenge. This operation had Canadian Coast Guard, Transport Canada, the U.S. and Canadian militaries, and other organizations involved.

All resources were mobilized to formulate a rescue operation and the rescue teams were at work around the clock. In the article, “Titanic Sub Disaster Compared to Migrant Shipwreck with Hundreds Missing” Anna Skinner reported in the Newsweek that “Now, people are pointing out the lack of similar search-and-rescue efforts for a shipwreck in the Mediterranean where many fear that hundreds have died. The fishing boat was carrying migrants traveling from Libya to Italy.”

The migrants who are in urgent need of social assistance are left to suffer and deliberately neglected under the political machines of our society. In The New York Times, Matina Stevis-Gridneff and Karam Shoumali report in their article, “Everyone Knew the Migrant Ship Was Doomed. No One Helped.” that the officials watched and listened from the air and by the sea, using the radar, telephone, and radio the distress call for 13 hours as the migrant ship Adriana had lost its power and drifted aimlessly off the coast of Greece. Stevis-Grindneff and Shoumali write, “As terrified passengers telephoned for help, humanitarian workers assured them that a rescue team was coming.” No help arrived. Instead, the Greek government which included dozens of officials and coast guard crews sent the coast guard special operations unit, a team of four armed men to watch as the ship drifted in the ocean and the migrant cried for help.

The authors further highlighted the fact that “Satellite imagery, sealed court documents, more than 20 interviews with survivors and officials, and a flurry of radio signals transmitted in the final hours suggest that the scale of death was preventable.” What resulted was the deaths of 597-600 deaths. Another shocking fact noted in the article was that “On board the Adriana, the roughly 750 passengers descended into violence and desperation. Every movement threatened to capsize the ship. Survivors described beatings and panic as they waited for a rescue that would never come.”

The Migrant issue becomes an issue of immigration and resource allocation; hence, the issue is politicized and debated in government institutions, and media. Meanwhile, the migrants’ lives suffer. The total number of migrant deaths in the Mediterranean Sea is 20,000 deaths. Reuters quoted the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Director General António Vitorino in the article, “Over 400 migrants died crossing the Mediterranean early in 2023 -UN agency,” stating that “The persisting humanitarian crisis in the central Mediterranean is intolerable and with more than 20,000 deaths recorded on this route since 2014, I fear that these deaths have been normalized. States must respond.” In the words of Stevis-Gridneff and Shoumali, every migrant ship is now a “potential political flashpoint.” Empathy in this case is often removed from the hearts and minds of the decision-makers.

It is a well-noted fact that millions of refugees are forced to leave their native countries because of political conflicts, civil unrest, war, famine, economic crisis, and environmental disasters. In the journal, Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, Eugene Quinn states in his article, “The Refugee and Migrant Crisis: Europe’s Challenge,” that “In 2015, more than 1 million refugees and migrants risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean in unsafe boats in search of haven and protection in Europe. Many were fleeing the horrors of war in Syria, and 3,700 people did not survive the journey. Less visibly, in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and on Europe’s border in Ukraine, conflict, violence, and human rights abuses are displacing large numbers.”

The world must understand that refugees are not fleeing their countries, leaving their homes and relatives behind because something else better waits for them. It is never an easy choice to leave one’s home, family, friends, or relatives behind. When migrants flee to other nations by risking their lives whether on a ship or in the hands of those who aim to “help” the migrants flee, it is a perilous journey that a migrant decides to take on. It is the duty of nations and governments globally, the United Nations, and the collective duty of society to place systems and responsible individuals in place who respond swiftly to any individual, rich, poor, or needy when such individuals require assistance. Humans, as history shows, have survived through collective dependence. The problem and issues arose when individuals, entities, or colonial powers decided to steal and hoard resources in pursuit of selfish interests. Furthermore, if our society preaches equality and freedom, and the right to pursue life in a dignified manner then it is also the responsibility of all governments around the world to start placing human dignity at the core of social and political policies.

The migrants are leaving because they are forced to leave. The home countries of the migrants have been ravaged by corruption and have been depleted of resources because of past colonial policies or present economic systems that are unfair, which contribute to inflation, poverty, and corruption. The migrants who just want to survive and live dignified lives by seeking better opportunities demand equal attention from the countries and nations that are doing better today. If the resources for the wealthy can be deployed immediately to save their lives because of the power, wealth, and influence attached to their existence, similar could be done for the migrant and those in need of assistance in the name of humanity. Rather than criminalizing the migrants because of their misfortune, empathy needs to be at the core of political and social policies.

Ahsan Qazi

Ahsan Qazi is the founder of One Voice-Pakistan and World Affairs in Sociological Perspective. He was born in Pakistan, but raised in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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