By Owei Lakemfa
Tragedy. Unimaginable tragedy. What is most tragic to me is not the number of migrants including children from the underdeveloped countries that have gone down the sea to watery graves trying to reach Europe. Yes, this year alone, over 1,200 went on a final dip, never to resurface again, or if they did, only as corpses. Last year, 2021, 3,077 of them experienced this excruciating exit from the world, all in the desperate bid for a better or safer life. The previous year, half of that number perished in the seas, not for lack of wisdom but for them, a suicidal attempt to reach Europe is better than the homes they are fleeing.
The world’s deadliest crossing between the hopelessness the migrants are fleeing from and the hope of making it to Europe where they pray for a better life, is the Mediterranean Sea. This blue sea in ancient times facilitated trade and cultural exchanges amongst the twenty one countries of Europe, Africa and the Middle East that have coastlines on it. This is why many of the migrants take to the sea from countries like Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Syria and Turkey, heading for states like Greece, Italy and France.
But the most tragic aspect to me is not the 33,761 persons that the United Nations, UN reported to have perished between 2000 and 2017. This is more so, when the loss of even one soul in such horrible circumstances is quite tragic. When we include the about 10,000 Latin Americans who due to heat stroke, dehydration, drowning and hyperthermia have since 1994, perished in their attempt to cross to the United States, we would realise that humanity has died many times over.
But like I said, the number that have gone down to watery graves trying to reach Europe, is not the most tragic. It is not even the attitude of some European countries, which after the migrants had survived the seas, push them back to the waves in a pointed denial of their humanity. In the last two weeks, the world witnessed the show of might by the new right wing-government in Italy led by Premier Giorgia Meloni which denied berthing for four ships carrying 1,078 migrants snatched from the roaring waves. The Ocean Viking carrying 234 rescued souls, Geo Barents with 572, Rise Above, holding 93 lives above the seas and Humanity1 with 179 human beings, were denied safe harbour.
International pressure and promises by Germany and France that they would receive some of the migrants had made Italy to allow one of the ships, Humanity1 waiting off the eastern coast of Sicily, permission to disembark minors and the sick. The ship had 100 minors, some as young as seven months on board. Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi who announced this, however, rejected the ship’s request for a safe port to anchor. His argument was that the ships were “islands” under the jurisdiction of the flag countries. Infrastructure Minister Matteo Salvini took to his Facebook page to gleefully rejoice: “We stop being hostage to these foreign and private NGOs that organise the routes, the traffic, the transport and the migratory policies.”
Finally, the Italian Government two days ago, allowed the Norwegian-flagged Geo Barents to berth, extending same to the Rise Above and Humanity1. It, however, disallowed ‘The Ocean Viking’ owned by France’s SOS Mediterranean non-governmental organisation, permission, claiming on Tuesday, that France had agreed to accept the ship. The next day, France denied there was such an agreement insisting that Italy has a responsibility to welcome the ship. Despite these uncertainties, the ship headed for the French island of Corsica hoping that the Macron government will give it shelter. The European Commission which over the last three weeks has been silent, this Wednesday woke up to request any of its members to allow The Ocean Viking berth. More a face-saving statement to claim it was concerned about the dangers the rescued faced.
However, these are not the most tragic issues on the migrant crisis. What is most tragic, is Greece attacking migrant boats within its waters and deliberately sinking them. On its land borders, there are survivors who have been attacked, tortured, disposed of their passports and money before being forced into Turkish borders. No, Greece is too smart to be seen or videoed carrying out such deliberate drowning or torture, rather, it hired undocumented migrants as police auxiliaries to carry out these crimes against humanity in its waters or land borders. Videos have emerged showing these hooded auxiliaries known as ‘Shadow Army’ apparently of Asian and Middle Eastern origins, attacking migrants, robbing them before forcing them across the Evros River into Turkey.
Twenty-two Afghan refugees including women and children have told the world that Greek authorities stripped them naked, seized their belongings including passports, money, and mobile phones and allowed the auxiliaries to complete the job of forcing them into boats into Turkish waters. They claimed that apart from Greek police, there were also other policemen wearing either German or Austrian flag patches who looked on without interfering. The migrants are apparently referring to the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex which works with Greek border police. The Frontex runs the Rapid Border Operation, RABIT in Evros. The Human Rights Watch Report of June 2021 had accused Frontex of condoning serious human rights abuses at EU’s external borders.
Former Greece Finance Minister and current parliamentarian, Yanis Varoufakis, issued a statement confirming the existence of the ‘Shadow Army’ and accusing the EU of committing crimes against humanity. While the issue of the migrant ships were on this week, the attention of the world was turned to the two-week UN Climate Change Conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt which began on Sunday, November 6, 2022. It is a major attempt to reduce the degradation of the environment damaged by years of mindless industrialization which has led to climate disasters including rising sea levels.
The objectives include protecting communities and natural habitats, mobilising finance and working together to save the world. The Sharm el-Sheikh Adaptation Agenda is to help four billion people adapt to climate change by 2030. While a lot of rhetoric go on, a salutary move, are the talks of Brazil, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, three countries with 52 per-cent of the remaining tropical forests in the world, to form an alliance against further deforestation. They called it the “Opec for rainforests” The alliance is drawing inspiration from Brazil’s President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a famous champion of environmental protection. The world is on the boil with climate change, energy crisis, displacement hunger, insecurity and wars; it is a pandemic only a social justice vaccine can help fight.