Shipwreck in the high sea off Libya: an announced tragedy. Until when?

presse release Migreurop

On 29 March 2009, 30 km away from the Libyan coast, there was one of the largest shipwrecks in the history of immigration into Europe: out of three boats that set off from Libya, two sank and the third disappeared.

Provisional figures refer to 23 survivors, 21 corpses recovered and over 500 disappeared people, undoubtedly swallowed up by the Channel of Sicily. As always happens for this sort of events, information is opaque and often contradictory. At first, the Libyan press agency limited itself to announcing that a majority of the migrants were Egyptian and that the three vessels had set off from the port of Sid Belal Janzur, with a total of 257 people on board. As for the International Organisation for Migrations (IOM), two days later, on 31 March, it announced that the number of victims from the three boats was estimated at 300. In Italy (the passengers’ destination), the press switched between repetition of the news from Libya and reports that the 257 people referred to were all on one of the three boats: which, if it were revealed to be true, would throw up a far more appalling estimate of the total number of people who have disappeared.

Beyond these hideous estimates, the statements from Libya are shocking, as they explain away this tragedy as the consequence of a very strong wind that was prevalent at the time. Rather, should responsibility for this slaughter not be attributed to the European Union, which promises 20 million Euros to the Libyan state in exchange for its co-operation in the fight against «irregular» immigration? Or to Italy, which has been signing various «friendship agreements» that include migration clauses with this dictatorship since 2000? And also to Libya, which, like its neighbours in the Maghreb, use migrants as an exchange currency to obtain a privileged position in international negotiations?

It is to be feared that the authorities’ reaction to this new tragedy will, once again, be to exploit these dramatic events without regard for the real causes that push migrants to take on deadly risks to reach Europe, in order to justify a hardening of controls.

On this portion of the maritime borders, the effects of the Italian policy to externalise patrolling operations along the Libyan coasts are also to be feared, as they will only result in an increase in the number of tragedies at sea and of the instances in which people who are refouled are placed at risk in the country not governed by the rule of law that is Libya.

Migreurop demands that the European Union, and particularly Italy, cease their negotiations with Libya. In the shorter term, Migreurop demands that events concerning this shipwreck be clarified, that search operations continue, so as to give a name to these migrants in order for them not to be destined, as is always the case for migration shipwreck victims, to oblivion. It is no less indispensable for those who are truly responsible for this veritable war that Europe has waged on migrants, at its borders and beyong, to be investigated and condemned.

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