How terrible, how sad, said the politicians from Italy to England. Pope Francis called the shipwreck a “disgrace” and offered prayers for the victims. Italy took the easy route saying, quite understandably, that it was a problem for Europe as a whole.
But less than a week later, the drowning of some 363 migrants off the coast of the island of Lampedusa has already fallen out of the main news. Had the victims been white Europeans or Americans instead of Syrians, Somalis and Eritreans, no doubt there would be more soul searching.
Even in the immediate aftermath, it became clear that the deaths could have been avoided then and there. How was it that in the combined surveillance forces of the Italian coast guard (backed up by European and American security systems of all kinds) did not spot the foundering boat quickly enough ?
The first on the scene were local fishermen Vito Fiorino and Francesco Colapino. They personally pulled dozens of migrants out of the water. But they said they were frustrated by the Italian coastguard. They took an hour to arrive (even though the boat sank only some 700 or so metres off the Lampedusa coast) and, by their accounts, refused to help.
This latest loss of life, however immense, adds to the already huge figure of some 20,000 people estimated to have died in similar circumstances in the Mediterranean since the mid-1990s.
“Murderous Europe”, a statement by Migreurop, a Euro-African network of campaigners for the human rights of migrants, rightly affirms the deaths were in no way inevitable or an act of fate.
The deaths in the seas between Europe and Africa, as well thousands more in the deserts of Sinai, Algeria and Mali (not forgetting Syria) are the consequence of a war against migrants.
How else can the European Union order control mechanisms and surveillance systems bearing hideous names like Frontex and Eurosur be described ?
Migregroup says that while people traffickers are denounced as the guilty parties, it is actually the states of Europe who refuse to issue visas to those seeking asylum or a new life in Europe, thus pushing people into so-called illegality.
There are an estimated six million illegal migrants in Europe who are victims of the “securitarian logic” of the EU’s Shengen Agreement.
Whilst decrying the warring regimes in Syria, Ethiopia and Somalia, European states, including Britain, refuse to offer asylum to those fleeing persecution or poverty. Instead the EU has signed agreements with Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Libya to make these states stem the flow of migrants.
Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which asserts the right of freedom of movement and choice of domicile, clearly does not appear to be on the EU lawmakers’ horizon.
While Italian agencies and international NGOs struggle to help survivors with totally inadequate funds and against obstruction by the Italian state, the real money is of course elsewhere.
The dire situation facing millions in Africa is because as far as the global big powers are concerned, they are simply collateral damage.
While the US state is in shutdown mode, hundreds of millions of tax dollars continue to be poured into making Italy “a launching pad for the wars of today and tomorrow”. While officially saying there are no US military bases in Italy, there are in fact 59 Pentagon-identified US bases in the country, including the Sigonella Naval Air Station near Catania in Sicily – less than 100 miles away from the African coast and even less from the island of Lampedusa.
Since 2008, the Pentagon has spent an estimated $31 million on a Global Hawk complex at Sigonella, part of its “global war on terror” programme for military operations in Africa.
The responsibility for the deaths in the seas of the Mediterranean lies on the shoulders of the European states and their co-criminals in the Pentagon.
A World to Win secretary
8 October 2013