Sep 2, 2019
This article is translated from the August 23rd edition of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Fight), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France. It illustrates how the crisis of migrants fleeing Central America to come to the U.S. is part of a broader crisis of refugees fleeing the increasingly unlivable situations imperialism has created in poor countries across the world, and how brutal anti-immigrant politics are growing throughout the rich countries.
On August 20, Italian courts finally forced the government to allow 107 migrants to leave the boat Open Arms, where they had been detained for 19 days at the Italian island of Lampedusa. Another boat operated by a non-profit, Ocean Viking, is itself still being kept at sea. Designed to hold 200 people, it has taken on 356, and their conditions are more and more precarious.
The far-right Italian Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, banned the Open Arms from access to Italian territorial waters. Despite an original decision by an Italian judge overturning that order, Salvini maintained the ban. So far, the Open Arms has only managed to land 27 unaccompanied children, but more than 100 people remain stuck on board, with just two toilets and less than 2,000 square feet in total. The situation is getting out of control, with desperate migrants jumping in the water to try to swim to the island.
Perhaps Salvini’s demand for an agreement dividing the migrants among the different European countries will in the end be met. But this demagogue uses the question of migrants like a stepping stone to get into power. For him, the affair of the Open Arms is just an opportunity to cynically double down on his anti-immigrant stance.
The other European governments are just as responsible as Italy. Spain started by refusing the Open Arms the right to land on its shores and rejected a demand to give asylum to 31 underage migrants. It finally agreed to open one port. But the spokesperson for the ship announced: “We cannot go to the Spanish port because we are in an extreme humanitarian state of emergency. It is impossible for us to navigate for six days, the time it would take for us to get to Algesiras.” France agreed to welcome 40 migrants from the Open Arms, but it avoided a decision about those on the Ocean Viking and banned access to its ports.
The ships of these non-profits are the only ones right now offering aid to the migrants who risk drowning in the Mediterranean. According to the U.N., 2,262 people died just in 2018. The European Union has stopped all aid operations and contents itself with signaling the presence of migrants preparing to leave to the Libyan coast guard, which takes them to camps where they are tortured and enslaved. At the same time that it demanded Italy allow the landing of the people on the Open Arms, the Italian court ordered the seizure of the ship itself. One more non-profit boat driven from its humanitarian patrols from now on.
Far from being the social and cultural model that it pretends to be, the European Union shows an increasingly inhuman face.