“The Mediterranean is a river. You can cross it in a morning.”

“This rubber boat is safe. It will take you to Germany or Sweden.”

“You won’t need water or food.”

“You can fly to Europe from Libya without a passport or visa.” 

These are the lies many people, seeking safety from war and extreme hardship, are told before they attempt to cross the Mediterranean.

Every year, thousands of people die as they seek refuge across the sea in overcrowded and unsafe boats. The Responder, a rescue boat operated by Red Cross and Migrant Offshore Aid Station, patrols the Mediterranean to save people at risk of drowning.

More than 2,000 people have been plucked from the sea by the Responder since August and among those rescued misinformation is rife.

Humanitarians often talk about communications being aid. People need information to assess the risks and benefits of leaving home, the journey and possible reception at their destination. It’s clear people are dying because they lack the right information.

And there’s another information gap, among people in countries where the newcomers hope to settle. The lack of information fuels rejection, xenophobia and fear.

What’s often missing in destination countries like New Zealand is an understanding of the refugee journey.  For people fleeing conflict in Syria and other countries, there is no home any more. No peace. Many others face a daily struggle for food, water, an education, a job, a future.

In their shoes we would probably do the same thing. We didn’t create the conditions of our own births. We won the lottery. We arrived to food, vaccinations, antibiotics, school and peace. If we’d been born a generation or two earlier, we could well have been the ones on the run, looking for safety and enough to eat.

No person or organisation alone has the power to bring about the peace, social justice and economic development that will remove the factors that force people to flee for their safety. But we can all play a part in making the welcome warmer when people come to New Zealand by safely challenging casual racism around us, volunteering to teach English in our neighbourhood, encouraging children to take an interest in the world, donating money to those who help or simply finding out more about the migration crisis.

‘Irregular migration’, as it’s sometimes known, is unlikely to stop any time soon. We need to work together to find solutions. And we particularly need ordinary, decent people to step up. We can’t let the haters win.