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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.

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With The End Of Sea Rescue Operations, Migrants Death Will Increase: U.N.

The International Organization for Migration reports more than 2,100 people have died making the dangerous sea crossing from Libya to Europe this year.

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Refugees, Migrants
Lifejackets piled on this Greek beach have come to stand for the rigors and danger that migrants face trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe. VOA

Leading U.N. humanitarian agencies warn migrant deaths in the Mediterranean Sea will multiply with the end of sea and rescue operations by Doctors Without Borders and its partner SOS Mediterranee.

The two international charities were pressured by the European Union to put their ship, the Aquarius into dry dock and abandon their life-saving rescue mission.

The Aquarius has been docked in Marseille, France, since early October after Panama revoked its registration at the behest of the right-wing, anti-immigration Italian government.

Refugees, Migrants
In this Aug. 27, 1994 file photo, U.S. Coast Guard crew from the cutter Staten Island are hindered by rough seas in the Florida Straits as they attempt to rescue Cuban refugees. VOA

Italy claims these operations encourage migrants to make the perilous sea journey. It says ending these activities will save lives, a claim hotly disputed by U.N. officials.

UN refugee agency spokeswoman, Shabia Mantoo, says search-and-rescue capacity needs to be reinforced rather than diminished.

“So, we do continue to call strongly for increasing search-and-rescue capacity in the Central Mediterranean and for leaving space for NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) to contribute in a coordinated manner to these efforts,” said Mantoo. “Saving lives is our primary concern.”

Since it began operations in February 2016, the Aquarius has helped nearly 30,000 refugees and migrants in distress find a safe haven. U.N. Human Rights Spokeswoman, Ravina Shamdasani, tells VOA she is deeply concerned by recent developments.

Refugees, Migrants
Representational Image of Refugees. Wikimedia Commons.

“The provision of support and assistance to migrants must not be criminalized,” said Shamdasani. “The decrease of search-and-rescue by humanitarian organizations and States failure to provide adequate search-and-rescue capacity is resulting in an increase of migrants, an increase of vulnerability of migrants at sea.”

Also Read: Refugees’ Entitled To Claim The Right To Asylum in The U.S: U.N.

Shamdasani says the death rate in the Central Mediterranean this year is much higher than in previous years. She says States must protect the lives and safety of migrants and ensure those who are at risk are rescued and offered immediate assistance.

The International Organization for Migration reports more than 2,100 people have died making the dangerous sea crossing from Libya to Europe this year. This is nearly two-thirds of the more than 3,300 deaths recorded globally in 2018. (VOA)