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The dangerous path across Mare Nostrum

The dangerous path across Mare Nostrum Noborder Network

Each week in Brussels normally begins in the same way. Most people take the metro, the bus, the tram, drive or simply walk in order to move from one side of the city to another. They go to university, do their shopping, or go to work (if they are lucky enough to have a job in the current economic climate). It is a scene similar to that which takes place in any other European city, included some impatience about the traffic or about - presumed or real - public transport delays. Often though, there is no time to think that, at any given moment and maybe not so far away, different itineraries are in operation and that the price paid by their protagonists could be too high.

On the 11th of May, Al Arabia spread the following information coming from Tripoli’s government: “At least 40 people died and 51 others were rescued after a boat carrying mostly sub-Saharan African migrants sank off Libya's coast east of Tripoli”. Once again tens of people boarded with their hopes and dreams onto a “vessel” void of any guarantee to keep afloat and the only thing they found was a “wet tomb”, this time “around 60 km east of Tripoli”. According to la, Libyan authorities let it be known "that if the European Union won’t make” more effort to support the North African state “in the management of migrants using the Country as a transit point towards Europe, the Libyan government will help them in their illegal journey”. Probably an irresponsible provocation, to request “assistance” that would facilitate them in stopping "migrants illegally arriving from sub-Saharan nations” and desirous to reach the “Old Continent”. After, in effect, the news agency ANSA reported that Tripoli “retraced its steps” by a public statement underlining its “will to keep on collaborating with Europe and Italy in order to limit the migrants inflow”. In any case, this sequence of tragic events did not seem to leave much space to polemics, if we consider that, on the 12th of May, another sinking ship carried more victims to their deaths. On the same day, the Corriere del mentioned 17 “cadavers” had been recovered and many more people - “probably two hundred” - were already “at the bottom of the sea if it’s true” that there were around “four hundred” people on board. This time, the tragedy unfolded “40 miles off Libya’s coasts” and, when the quoted article was published, two hundred migrants had been saved by “Italian ships” and some “freighters” which had changed course.

The Mediterranean Sea seems to be becoming more and more a place where thousands of people decide to take a gamble with their lives. But how many people choose to cross Mare Nostrum in such precarious conditions? Let’s mention some figures posted on the International Organization for Migration’s website. In 2013, more than “45,000 migrants risked their lives in the Mediterranean to reach Italy and Malta” and the “arrivals are the highest since 2008, with the exception of 2011 - the year of the Libyan crisis”. Among these persons, over “42,900 landed in Italy and 2,800 landed in Malta. Of those who arrived in Italy, over 5,400 were women and 8,300 were minors – some 5,200 of them unaccompanied. Most of the landings took place in Lampedusa (14,700) and along the coast around Syracuse in Sicily (14,300)”. At the beginning of this year, remember that “on 24 January, 204 migrants were rescued by the Italian navy in the Straits of Sicily and landed in Augusta, close to Syracuse”. It is a matter of “people who are escaping from war, persecution, poverty and hunger”. Often, when they disappear, their loss simply remains unknown”.

In the face of such a human drama, it is essential that the European Union act as one player and that its Member States work together to fight against illegal migration and its exploitation, to improve regular channels to assist people desirous to come to Europe, to rescue the victims of shipwrecks and other disasters. Moreover, when policy makers report on such a topic, it would be important - beyond the difference of ideas and approaches - to avoid populist stances and to try, among other things, to consider the reasons pushing a person to put his or her life in the hands of unscrupulous individuals profiteering from a “desperation vessel”. This consideration is not only a way to recall human solidarity, but it also reminds us that,  in order to deal with the migration phenomenon in a serious way, understanding the reasons behind each flow of migrants -legal or illegal- is fundamental.

Angelo Tino is currently an Intern at the United Nations Regional Information Center (UNRIC).

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