Lampedusa, European governmental xenophobia kills refugees

This 2015 video is called Over 900 Feared Dead in Mediterranean Migrant Boat Tragedy.

By Alex Lantier:

Fifty dead as another migrant ship sinks off Italy

12 October 2013

Dozens of migrants died yesterday when their boat capsized in heavy seas 100 kilometers south of the Italian island of Lampedusa, only one week after a similar disaster claimed the lives of at least 339 migrants within sight of the island.

Italian news agency Ansa said approximately 50 bodies, including women and 10 children, had been pulled from the water.

The navies of Italy and the nearby island nation of Malta worked to rescue survivors of the sinking. A Maltese ship reported having picked up approximately 150 people, while the Italian navy said it had rescued around 50 survivors and was sending more rescue boats to the scene.

“The operation is in progress. The navigational conditions are difficult, with a strong wind,” a Maltese navy spokesman told Agence France-Presse last night.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat told a news conference in Valletta that Maltese officials could confirm the death of at least 27 people, and “the number is expected to rise, possibly drastically.”

An Italian helicopter flew 10 rescued children to Lampedusa—where the survivors of last week’s sinking are being held under guard, threatened with deportation and fines of up to €5,000.

Initial reports indicated that the migrant ship ran into difficulty from the heavy seas and decided to signal for help. The boat allegedly capsized when those aboard gathered at one end of the vessel to catch the attention of a military aircraft flying nearby.

This shocking tragedy again underscores the terrible toll in lives from the European Union’s (EU) reactionary Frontex anti-immigrant legislation. Designed to keep immigrants from reaching Europe, it forces them to take unsafe routes into Europe and trust their lives to unseaworthy vessels, with tragic results.

Over the past 20 years, an estimated 25,000 people have died trying to enter Europe, many of them in the Mediterranean.

Public anger over the legislation has risen since last week’s Lampedusa sinking, with protests in Africa and in Italy, including a candlelight vigil on Lampedusa itself. When Manuel Barroso, the head of the EU Commission, arrived in Lampedusa on Wednesday, he was met with cries of “shame.”

The nationalities of the victims of yesterday’s sinking are not yet known. UN officials told the Associated Press that migrants today are generally fleeing persecution and wars in countries like Syria or Egypt.

Escalating fighting triggered by NATO-led proxy wars in Syria and Africa is forcing ever larger numbers of people to flee for their lives. The ship that sank on October 3 was carrying migrants from the East African countries of Eritrea and Somalia. Somalia has been the target of US drone strikes, invasions by regional military powers, and escalating tribal fighting.

Some 30,100 migrants arrived in Italy and Malta in the first nine months of 2013, compared with 15,000 in all of 2012. The 2013 figure included 7,500 refugees from Syria and 3,000 from Somalia.

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26 thoughts on “Lampedusa, European governmental xenophobia kills refugees

  1. Tragedy brings hope for Italy immigrant rights

    Written by Tribune

    Sunday, 13 October 2013 00:00

    ROME — In the wake of last week’s shipwreck tragedy in Italy, refugee and immigrant rights advocates are hoping for a change of heart in a country that is struggling to accept a new multi-cultural identity.

    After visiting Lampedusa island where over 300 migrants died, Prime Minister Enrico Letta announced a reform of asylum laws and said Italy should abolish the crime of illegal immigration.

    “It is now or never for things to change,” Khalid Chaouki, a Moroccan-born lawmaker from the centre-left Democratic Party in the Italian parliament, told AFP in an interview.

    Italy’s current laws on immigration “were put in place in a climate of fear by right-wing governments over the past 20 years,” he said.

    At the centre of the debate is the “Bossi-Fini Law” which considers all irregular migrants “suspects” liable for steep fines and punishes people who come to their aid, including fishermen who fear having their boats seized by prosecutors.

    Chaouki said he believed it was possible “to overcome ideological rifts” within Letta’s left-right coalition government and find a majority in favor of reforming the law.

    But immigration activists are less optimistic, particularly since the coalition includes Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party which helped vote the hugely controversial law in place.

    “The government seems very stalled,” said Igiaba Scego, an Italo-Somali writer who heads up the association “Meetings of Civilizations.”

    An announcement by the European Union’s executive that it plans to beef up the Frontex border guard service has also proved contentious, with charities saying the organization is more steered towards fighting illegal immigration than saving lives.

    Italian divers said the death toll from the refugee shipwreck last week had risen to 309 after seven bodies were recovered on Thursday.

    Sandro Triulzi, a historian of Italy’s colonial past in Africa said many Italian officials remain stuck in a “security” approach to immigration.

    “The difficulty for Italy is to accept its multi-cultural character,” he said, adding that large-scale immigration only goes back 20 years in a country that used to be a land of emigration.

    Triulzi said Italy “had not settled with its past and the loss of colonies is seen as a wound.”

    “The migrant is still seen as a colonial subject, good for picking tomatoes or looking after elderly people for not much money,” he said.

    For these immigration rights advocates, another key step in the cultural revolution they want to see is a reform of a law that grants Italian nationality on the basis of parentage.

    Reform would be good news for the 500,000 children of foreign-born parents in Italy who have to wait until they are 18 to become Italian.

    Italy also has a way to go on views about the five million foreign-born people on its soil — around 7.5 to 8.0 percent of the population — who represent some 12 percent of its gross domestic product even in an economy hit by crisis.

    “The presence of foreigners is not discussed in pop culture, in television shows. In films, black women are prostitutes or maids, black men are drug addicts, gangsters or migrants at sea,” Scego said.

    Campaigners also criticize the media for frequently mentioning nationality or skin color in crime stories, reinforcing negative stereotypes.

    But immigration also has a lot of success stories like the thousands of small businesses set up by foreigners. “Mohammed” this year became the most popular name for business owners in Milan.

    There is also the story of Rashid reported by La Repubblica daily — a young Moroccan who lives by selling handkerchiefs and lighters and has just earned a doctorate in engineering.

    The nomination of Cecile Kyenge, Italy’s first black government minister, who is in charge of integration, is also seen as a major improvement.

    But the appointment has evoked strong reactions from anti-immigrant parties. She has had bananas thrown at her at a political rally and was compared to an orangutan by a leading senator.

    Chaouki has called for less indulgence from the authorities in outright cases of racism.

    He has also asked for the neo-fascist party Forza Nuova to be banned, along with other “who want a return to old ideologies of identity.

    “They are trying to stir up young people, the unemployed, all the victims of the social crisis.” AFP


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  26. 7 October 2013. A World to Win News Service. On 3 October, a boat on the Mediterranean Sea a short distance from the Italian island of Lampedusa carrying more than 500 refugee immigrants was left to sink. Only 155 people are known to have survived. Most of the passengers were from Eritrea and Somalia.
    Divers are still searching for the bodies of the missing. Experienced in dealing with tragedies, they were nonetheless horrified by the sight of bodies so tightly packed together in the hold that they are still on their feet, with one woman’s hair flowing out the window of the boat lying 47 metres under the sea. One diver said he could not shake off the image of the dead with their arms raised as though calling for help. Another started to cry as he described pulling out the body of a child whose face then hit his own, saying it could have been his own son.
    Some of the survivors swam to shore, a kilometre away. Others clung to empty water bottles to stay afloat until they were finally picked up after three hours in the sea. There is unclarity as to why the boat did not find a docking point. Reports say the bay was too rocky to land. Some say the passengers started a fire to attract attention to their plight but it quickly spread and the boat sank. Survivors also report seeing a few boats in the distance and one boat with a light that encircled them and then left.

    The first fisherman to reach the fiery wreck sounded an alarm. He said that some of the 47 migrants he pulled from the sea had been stripped of their clothing, probably by the current. Other fishermen who arrived at the site were overcome with emotion at the sight of a sea full of floating refugees waving their arms and screaming for help. They asked, how could you turn away when you see a person who needs help? It’s unthinkable that a fisherman of Lampedusa would pretend to see nothing. Another fisherman said he injured his arm lifting 18 kerosene-soaked bodies into his boat. One told BBC that the coastguard actually hampered rescue efforts. “They refused to take on board some people we’d already saved because they said protocol forbade it,” he told BBC.
    Normally migrants seeking refugee status have cell phones for contacting the authorities when they reach shore, but they were forced to give them up in Libya where they were confined for two months before embarking by ruthless smugglers who charged thousands of dollars per person for this perilous passage.
    On the day of the funeral 10 fishing boats lowered bouquets of flowers over the spot where the submerged boat still lies in honour of the remaining victims entombed in the hold. One of the boats in the area hoisted a black flag bristling in the wind with the simple word “Shame!” emblazoned on it. Children at the funeral carried a banner stating, “Enough! There is no excuse for indifference.”
    Lampedusa is much closer to North Africa than to Italy. For migrants trying to enter Europe, the Mediterranean Sea, paradoxically one of the world’s most closely watched water bodies, is an epicentre of death. This is the description used by non-governmental organisations who support the rights of immigrants to asylum in Europe. The sheer numbers of preventable deaths made this particular incident able to achieve world media attention, causing outpourings of grief and outrage.

    Part of what was unusual in this tragedy was the large number of women and children who died. Deaths in this dangerous trajectory occur regularly, but more often in smaller, mainly unnoticed numbers – and mostly young men. If their bodies don’t disappear, they sometimes wash ashore on resort beaches in Spain or Greece. Many cross in small, overcrowded boats that don’t have even the proper oars for rowing. Previous to this disaster, the most notorious tragedy that caught widespread attention was the “left to die” boat with only 11 survivors out of 72 people, during the Nato war on Libya. Blame for deliberately ignoring their plight was clearly laid at Nato’s feet by a report from the Council of Europe (see awtwns120402).

    Over the past twenty years an estimated 20,000 lives have been lost while crossing the Mediterranean Sea, 1,500 in 2011 alone. Italy, Spain and Greece have been the closest entry points to Europe, but for those trying to go north it is only the last leg of a difficult and dangerous journey for a migrant. Abdul, a 16-year-old Somali boy who survived this latest crossing, said his father paid a total of $7,500 to smugglers to get him to Lampedusa, where he arrived by boat 12 days ago – about six months after leaving Mogadishu. “I want to study. I want a future,” he told Reuters. For many, entire families pool their resources to send one family member north, who in turn sends money back to help the family.
    For those who survive the journey, if they do not receive asylum they are forced to live in the shadows of society, often facing brutality at the hands of police and right-wing gangs who operate with impunity, like what took place in Greece against Bangladeshi farm workers last April.

    Local lawyers argue that Italian laws aimed at curbing illegal migration dissuade boats from helping migrants in distress at sea. One commercial boat that picked up people on a drifting dinghy in the middle of the Mediterranean was forced by the Italian government to take them back to Libya. There are disputes between different sections of local governments and within the European Union over responsibility for rescuing immigrants. Boatloads of impoverished immigrants poured out of Europe for centuries – Italy is only one example – but now no European country is willing to bear the expense of minimal operations of mercy mandated by international law (the 27 countries of the European Union have allocated a total of four ships, two helicopters and two planes for Mediterranean rescue operations), let alone open its arms to desperate migrants. Instead, openly or by implication, they try to make immigrants share the blame for the unemployment in their countries caused by the world capitalist-imperialist system and aggravated by the recent financial crisis.

    The survivors of this tragedy will be placed under investigation for “clandestine immigration”, an offence that could lead to a 5,000 euro fine. This puts the Italian government in league with the criminal smugglers, giving it their “fair share” of the extortion of these immigrants.

    According to the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR, despite the dangers people face, from 1 January to 30 September this year, 30,100 migrants reached Italy on boats from North Africa. At this particular short moment in history the biggest groups were from Syria (7,500), Eritrea (7,500) and Somalia (3,000). Eritrea was once an Italian colony, and the Italian government shipped off 70,000 people, including workers and poor Italian farmers, to live there. Somalia was first an Italian and then a British colony, and the U.S. has done its best to assert its interests over the country. Syria was seized by the French, and all the main imperialist powers are fanning the flames of the horrendous situation there.
    The discussion taking place around this needless loss of lives must pose some deeper questions of what kind of global system we live in that drives people out of their homelands, that makes the world the lopsided place it is. Experience has shown – and now we have seen it demonstrated once again – that the European states would just as soon that these immigrants all drown, preferably farther from shore where they die unseen.


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