On Nov. 24, two devastating and separate, but ultimately interrelated, incidents took place in far-flung corners of the world. First, at least 27 people perished while attempting to cross the turbulent waters of the English Channel, which separates France from the United Kingdom. The dead were migrants from Africa and the Middle East whose fragile, flimsy raft sank before it reached the U.K.’s shores. This was the deadliest migrant crossing across the channel ever recorded, but it is not an isolated incident. Attempted channel crossings have spiked since 2018, resulting in hundreds of deaths.
On the same day, more than 8,000 miles to the south, scientists in South Africa informed the World Health Organization of a grim discovery: the omicron variant, a new and potentially highly transmissible iteration of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Before the end of the month, nearly 60 countries had closed their borders or initiated strict restrictions against travelers from South Africa and many of its neighboring states in sub-Saharan Africa, a knee-jerk reaction that has been decried by many as racist, counterproductive and dangerous.
These two incidents are, at first glance, unrelated. However, they both highlight a bleak political reality: the readiness of Western countries to react to global catastrophes by shutting their doors.