The latest victims of Europe’s hard borders include 41 refugees, three of them children, who have drowned in a shipwreck off Italy’s coast. Politico reported on 9 August that the small boat carrying refugees had set off from Sfax in Tunisia. It capsized and sank near the Italian island of Lampedusa. Only four survivors were rescued by a Maltese cargo ship, after which the Italian Coast Guard brought them to Lampedusa.
A worsening crisis
Recent crossings over the Mediterranean sea from Tunisia in particular have increased due to the political situation within the country, and especially anti-Black racism towards people from sub-Saharan nations.
On Sunday, 6 August, rescue operations involving fire brigades and coastguards… rescued 34 people who had been stranded on the rocks of Ponente, Lampedusa, for more than 30 hours…
Meanwhile, between Sfax and Lampedusa, there were three shipwrecks. In the night between 5 and 6 August, a first boat, with 48 people on board, capsized. Only 45 were rescued, at least 3 were missing, according to initial reconstructions. For a second iron boat, with 42 people on board, all of sub-Saharan origin, the balance is even more ominous: only 14 survived, while around 30 are reported missing.
Moreover, also on 6 August, a shipwreck off Tunisia’s Kerkennah Islands resulted in only two rescues, four recovered bodies, and 51 mising people:
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#Tunisia Another horrific #shipwreck off #Karkanah.57 souls from #Sub_Saharan_African nationalities onboard.
Tragically,only 2 rescued,4 bodies recovered, and 51 still missed for. This tragedy is not slowing down pic.twitter.com/zFDcbV00WS
— jihed (@brirmijihed) August 7, 2023
AFP reported that the UN’s migration agency, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said the migrants’ boat would have been ill-equipped for the kind of bad weather seen in the Central Mediterranean in the past week.
IOM press officer Flavio Di Giacomo said:
Sub-Saharan migrants (leaving from Tunisia) are forced to use these low-cost iron boats which break after 20 or 30 hours of navigation…
With this kind of sea, these boats capsize easily. It is very likely that there are many more shipwrecks than those we know about — that is the real fear.
He also added that traffickers who sent people to sea in such conditions are “more criminal than usual… totally without scruples”.
Hard borders: no place to go
Sadly for those who manage to survive these perilous crossings, the road ahead is still filled with challenges. Maldusa has also reported on the conditions facing people when they arrive at the Lampedusa “hotspot”. They are effectively trapped until authorities transport them to the mainland:
The hotspot remains a de facto closed centre in which it is not possible to leave and which, especially at times of overcrowding, becomes a place and reason for strong tensions between groups and individuals; especially at times when there are more than 2000 people in a centre that should only be able to accommodate 389.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given its asylum-seeker population, the island remains under-resourced and ill-equipped to support those who arrive:
The people disembarking on Lampedusa arrive in serious and alarming health conditions… One wonders whether the hotspot is a suitable place to deal with such situations and what kind of resources there are to deal with cases of trauma and psychological fragility, which are widespread due to the abuse systematically suffered by people on the road. The health resources available between the infirmary in the hotspot and the island’s Outpatient Clinic are often inadequate to respond to requests.
MP and former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn shared his thoughts on Twitter:
I am heartbroken by this utterly appalling loss of life.
And I am sick and tired of ritual expressions of sympathy by those who condemned these human beings to death.
Governments across Europe have blood on their hands — and we demand justice.https://t.co/ENsQE9gM6z
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) August 9, 2023
Predictably though, on the very same day – and only an hour later – 10 Downing Street tweeted about deals with other countries to “stop the boats”. Right-wing governments and politicians continue to deny the humanity of refugees’ lives:
41 migrants died today 💔
Every human being is legal.
This government is abhorrent. https://t.co/P0j34Ip0xr
— Izzy (@IrrumAli) August 9, 2023
As one Twitter user summed up:
3/These are not natural disasters – these are #EUPolicy disasters! Enough of this deadly 'border control.
We DEMAND #SafePassage NOW! It's time to put an end to this unending massacre in the #Mediterranean. The world must no longer turn a blind eye! 😡💔 #Hecatomb
— jihed (@brirmijihed) August 7, 2023
The human cost of hard borders
This latest tragedy is one among many faced by refugees due to the closed borders of European countries. As Politico reported:
In Brussels, Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Italian government has been pushing to review rules on how the EU welcomes and relocates migrants, asking for more authority to remove rejected asylum seekers.
Last month, the EU finalized a deal with Tunisia — a common departure point for people seeking asylum in Europe — which essentially offers the country millions of euros in exchange for help blocking the boats that have been carrying a growing number of people to Europe.
The United Nations has registered more than 17,000 deaths and disappearances in the central Mediterranean since 2014, making it the most dangerous migrant crossing in the world.
However, the onus is repeatedly placed on refugees to not make these journeys. European nations keep expending resources on stopping small boat crossings. At the same time, they continue to breach international human rights law by closing their borders to refugees and asylum seekers.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse
Featured image via Twitter/Angela CaponnettoSupport us and go ad-free
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