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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

Venezuelan Migrants and Refugees at High Risk of Exploitation and Abuse

A survey by the International Organization for Migration finds Venezuelan migrants and refugees are at high risk

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Venezuelan, Migrants, Refugees
FILE - Venezuelan children sleep at the Binational Border Service Center in Tumbes, Peru, after a new migration law was imposed for all Venezuelan migrants to have valid visas and passports, June 15, 2019. VOA

A survey by the International Organization for Migration finds Venezuelan migrants and refugees are at high risk of exploitation and abuse.  More than 4,600 people were surveyed in five Caribbean and Central American countries between July and December 2018.

The survey provides a snapshot of the hardships encountered by a fraction of the four million people who have fled Venezuela’s political and economic crisis over the past few years.

One in five Venezuelans interviewed said they were forced to work under dire conditions without pay or were held against their will until they paid off a debt they incurred while escaping from Venezuela.

Rosilyn Borland is an IOM senior regional migrant protection and assistance specialist based in Costa Rica.  On a telephone line from the Costa Rican capital, San Jose, she tells VOA both men and women fall victim to traffickers who force them into abusive situations.

Venezuelan, Migrants, Refugees
FILE – A Venezuelan migrant rests outside the Ecuadorean migrations office at the Rumichaca International Bridge, in the border between Tulcan, Ecuador, and Ipiales, Colombia on August 20, 2018. VOA

“It is good to remember that these criminal networks, they focus on the vulnerabilities,” she said.  “So, those can be linked to your gender or they can be linked to other things.  So, often we see trafficking and exploitation of women linked to gender-based violence and inequalities that women face.  But also, men who are searching for a way to support their families… may also find themselves in situations of vulnerability.”

Borland says many migrants and refugees face discrimination while in transit or in destination countries.  She says massive flows of people often bring out the worst tendencies in host communities.

“Part of our reasons for asking these questions has to do with fighting against xenophobia and things that, unfortunately, sometimes happen when communities are hosting large numbers of people.  It is difficult.  It is a strain,” she said.

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Borland says it is important to regularize migrants in the host countries.   She says allowing migrants to work legally brings them out of the shadows so they can fight for their rights.  She says having legal status would make them less vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. (VOA)