Migrants’ water graveyard


PICTURE CAPTION: Migrants arrive at Hay Wharf in Valletta aboard a patrol boat of the Armed forces of Malta on October 12, 2013, a day after their boat sank. Courtesy AFP PHOTO/MATTHEW MIRABELLI

The second migrant boat tragedy has happened on Friday. A week after at least 339 people drowned off Lampedusa, now at least 27 people have feared drowned when a boat carrying more than 200 migrants capsized in the same location.

Reports say people on board had crowded to one side of the boat, causing it to capsize, as they tried to get the attention of a passing aircraft.

The tragedy involving African migrants, mainly from Eritrea, off the tiny island of Lampedusa could and should have been prevented, like the countless other deaths that have occurred over the last years in those waters.

According to reports published in media, nearly 20,000 people have died since 1988 along southern European borders, making the Mediterranean a true graveyard for migrants.

I feel that the international community should admit the inadequacy of what is a unilateral, temporary and often repressive approach to mobility.

The migration question has certainly not been resolved by governments militarising borders further or criminalising undocumented immigrants. Many countries treat the undocumented migrants as illegal, even though UN says clearly that human being should not be called so.

Let us come back to Italy. I have read that such policies have been particularly harsh in Italy, where politicians have built their identity and electoral success on fear of foreigners.

The news reports say that in 2009 the Berlusconi administration started a policy of push-backs of people in need of protection, a measure condemned by the UN and by the European court of human rights in Strasbourg.

That Italian government went on signing agreements with the late Muammar Gaddafi to prevent African migrants fleeing Libya.

In 2008 the so-called “security package” law turned undocumented migrants into criminals as well as their traffickers.

Apparently all those measures have ended up encouraging trafficking by criminal organisations, while discouraging open water rescue for fishermen, who fear being accused of aiding and abetting.

Three years on, those regulations are still in force, despite the fact that two governments have followed.

Even when the current Italian deputy prime minister, Angelino Alfano announced a national day of mourning, he did not dare question Italy’s immigration law and tried to shift the blame on Europe’s failing asylum system.

However, anti-immigrant Italian politicians are not the only ones at fault.

Cecilia Malmström, European commissioner for home affairs, has vowed Europe will step up its effort to prevent these tragedies and took the opportunity to promote the Eurosur project and its “smart borders” policy.

The €340m project aims to track and identify small vessels at sea, but actually the whole idea is based on the “externalisation” of the borders, with some hi-tech smart tools and further patrolling by the European border agency Frontex.

It remains to be seen in what ways these projects are different from the one Malmström started with Gaddafi in 2010. That allocated €50m to ensure greater control of the southern border of Libya in the desert, out of sight of Europe.

So why do Eurocrats keep investing in security measures?

Why don’t they focus on a shared asylum policy, on serious multilateral agreements between transit and receiving countries, on building search-and-rescue capacity in the Mediterranean, on the full respect of the right to international protection?

Europe cannot go on sealing its borders and pretending not to see what’s going on in the south, especially in still-troubled Northern Africa, and in a continent with growing poverty, along with a food and health crisis.

Increasing social conflicts inevitably result in harsher repression by authoritarian regimes and therefore in further asylum-seekers, just like the Eritrean young men and women who drowned in Lampedusa.

Tail end: A recent World Bank report says that Africa’s economy is booming. Some countries even are having growth rate which is higher than the developing countries. So, why are people leaving Africa? Why they want to risk their life? Do they feel that taking up the risk of sailing in troubled water is much better than staying back in their own country?