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Migrant boat massacre: Will Europe open its eyes to the evils of human trafficking?

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By Edoardo Lisi

On the night of April 19th, the Mediterranean Sea turned red again. A Libyan barge around 35 meters capsized in the open sea around 60 miles from Libya.

The ramshackle boat was transporting more than nine hundred emigrants from different parts of North Africa and Middle East.

Only twenty odd could manage to reach the desired destination.

The cause of the sinking, according to the Italian Government, was an impact with a Portuguese merchant ship which was trying to assist the barge and was encountering navigation problems.

After intense investigations, the “Prosecutor Office of Catania” ascribed the responsibility of this tragedy to two immigrant traffickers. The traffickers, afraid of being nabbed, started hasty operations that led to the crash.

These individuals, named “immigrant traffickers” or, more properly, “death traffickers”, earn millions of dollars per year, at the expense of desperate emigrants, who pay exorbitant amounts for a trip full of privations.

After a long trip through the desert, which can last several days, the survivors have to cope with the fury of the sea (a sea which most of them have neither seen, insofar most of them name it “the big river”).

The whole trip is insidious for the emigrants, whose only hope resides in the rescue of the Navy or of other ships.

While the poorest “travelers” are closed in the hold and punched just for their tyrants’ amusement, the “commanders” smoke hashish  and drink alcohol to “alleviate their worries”.

These criminals proliferate nowadays, facilitated by an immensely deficient international legislation on the problem.

In particular, the International Law concerning navigation in the seas recognizes a unique nationality with every boat, called the “flag state”, indeed demonstrated by the flag that waves on it.

This also implies that the same “executive jurisdiction” applies to that boat as that in the “mother country”, even though there might be some exceptions.

The Navy or Coast Guard belonging the closest country can exert the “right of visitation”, through inspections and blocks of the boats, in case of suspected piracy and illegal traffic of goods and drugs.

However, the legislation about trafficking humans is  so vague and incomplete, that countries like Italy (one of the most popular routes of transition to Europe, because of its easy accessibility to  the sea) are forced to create ambitious ( but too much often useless) “Projects”, in order to take countermeasures against the growing problem.

“We are in front of a humanitarian crisis, which cannot be solved without a concrete help from the European Union”, these are the words pronounced by the Italian Premier Matteo Renzi after the umpteenth failure of the “Project Triton”.

This project started last year with the collaboration of the EU, which designates a budget of 3 million Euros per month. Born with the aim of catching sight of barges full of emigrants, the project was meant to give the emigrants an identity and the possibility to move to another European country.

However, the project turned out to be completely ineffective.

The budget is insignificant in comparison to the magnitude of the problem, the number of men and instruments are inadequate to undertake control and salvage operations. Moreover, the prevention on the Libyan coast is almost non-existent.

In Rome, the work of the “Comunità di Sant’Egidio”, a catholic association which takes care of the migrants at their arrival and promotes a sane awareness among the public about the problem.

Sane awareness seems to be amiss in Italian politics. Politicians grow their approval-ratings by confusing the public about the actual situation. They foment intolerance amongst the voters and a “category” of people who cannot stand up on their own, being often silenced by the national press.

“The Italian State pays 40 Euros a day for every emigrant which stays in Italy. They are responsible for the growing number of crimes”, this is the “deformed truth” that they celebrate and diffuse.

Their aim is to transform Italians, famous in the past for their hospitality, into a cynical and intolerant population.

Ignorance and misinformation are perfect weapons to control people.

After spending one day in the “Comunità di Sant’ Egidio” one could appreciate the “other truth”–the truth of the people who have mouths, but whose words are not heard. At the same time the ignorant majority pronounces an uninterrupted and unilateral speech about their destiny.

Abdullah, a Somali guy, shared with me his experience about his “trip for life” and his hope to be recognized by the Italian society. He has seen a history of privations (the same privations that he and his family had to face while accumulating enough money to pay for the trip) and suffering, physical and psychological.

A story hard to narrate and hard to listen, especially when his words bear memories of death witnessed along the trip. However, I cannot argue against the fact that knowledge implies a “sweaty” work.

I could spend hours abducing arguments about the fact that felt silence speaks more than prejudiced opinions.

Next Story

Hope in Mexican Border Towns, Migrants Wait In Hope Of Rescue

Many migrants have been exposed to violence, said Gordon Finkbeiner of the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, from “organized crime groups that are along the route.

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Migrants from Venezuela, Cuba and Guatemala wait at bridge between Matamoros, Mexico and Brownsville, Texas for immigration officials to allow them to turn themselves in and ask for asylum in U.S., Nov. 12, 2018. VOA

Migrants have arrived in Tijuana and other border cities in caravans of thousands, while others come in small groups of a dozen or so. They have often walked for days through Central America, then ridden buses or gotten rides on trucks through the vast expanses of Mexico. In border cities like Tijuana, they find help in shelters run by charities.

Asylum seeker Angela Escalante is here with her husband and 7-year-old son.

“The situation is very bad, there are no jobs,” she said of her country of Nicaragua, blaming political violence there on President Daniel Ortega. “There’s no security so you can’t safely walk the streets,” she added.

Central American migrants settle in a shelter at the Jesus Martinez stadium in Mexico City, in Mexico City, Jan. 28, 2019.
Central American migrants settle in a shelter at the Jesus Martinez stadium in Mexico City, in Mexico City, Jan. 28, 2019. VOA

Post-traumatic stress

New arrivals say they also face violence from cartels and local drug gangs.

“It was around 14 years ago they killed the brother of my grandfather and a son of my grandfather, and because of this, they are still pursuing us,” said Jorge Alejandro Valencia, 19, from Michoacan state on Mexico’s western coast. He said the criminals later killed his grandfather, and they now are threatening his sister.

Migrants
Survey of Migrants From Mexico. VOA

Many migrants have been exposed to violence, said Gordon Finkbeiner of the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, from “organized crime groups that are along the route. What we see and what we attend to is mostly situations of high levels of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder.”

A 23-year-old Honduran, newly arrived in a shelter, said a gang demanded he sell drugs, and he could see no escape except to leave his country. He asked not be identified, saying that the gangs monitor Facebook and if his identity is revealed, the gang would target his family.

US citizens wait, too

Africans and Haitians, who relocated from their countries to Venezuela, and Central Americans from Central America’s northern triangle of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, all wait in the city’s shelters. Every case is different, and many are complicated.

A woman from Honduras has a 12-year-old son with U.S. citizenship and displays his passport. The boy, named Jimmy, was born in the United States but returned to Honduras with his mother when she was deported.

A middle-aged man named Efren Galindo was born in Mexico and grew up in Texas. Two years ago, he was deported and nearly killed by Mexican drug cartels, he explained as he displayed scars on his back and shoulder.

“I’ve been 46 years, [nearly] my whole life over there,” Galindo said, pointing northward to the United States. “I’m married to an American citizen. I have four American sons, an American daughter and 16 grand babies,” he added.

Credible fear, big backlog

To be granted asylum, petitioners must demonstrate a credible fear of persecution or torture, and show that they are not only fleeing poverty. Those who have been deported from the United States face added restrictions. Many having been barred from returning for five, 10, 20 years or more.

The U.S. immigration system, meanwhile, is overwhelmed, with a backlog worsened by the recent 35 day partial shutdown of the U.S. government in a dispute between Democrats in Congress and U.S. President Donald Trump over a border wall. U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services said in a statement Jan. 21 that it faced “a crisis-level backlog of 311,000” asylum cases that had yet to be interviewed for credible fear.

The backlog of all immigration court cases was more than 800,000 in November, according researchers at Syracuse University.

Many detention facilities that house illegal entrants are temporary, according to Border Patrol Agent Tekae Michael on the border south of San Diego.

“I know ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] is completely overrun,” she said. “We don’t have enough immigration judges to be able to process efficiently and effectively and swiftly.”

Mexico is granting temporary papers to Central Americans, and volunteers from U.S.-based groups like San Diego’s Border Angels bring supplies to the shelters. Mexican businesses are making donations.

Also Read: Mexico to Relocate 120 Central American Migrants

Carlos Yee of the Catholic shelter Casa del Migrante says aid workers like him feel frustrated.

“We don’t have the power to work through this enormous bureaucracy. We only can say to them, be patient,” he said.

The city of San Diego is visible through a border fence, just 30 kilometers north of here, but these migrants in Tijuana face many more hurdles on their journey. Yet, they are still hopeful. (VOA)