Jul 21, 2014
In just one weekend, June 28 and 29, 5,500 illegal immigrants surfaced off the coast of Sicily. More than 40 of these migrants died of asphyxiation in the depths of one of the makeshift boats they used to try and cross the Mediterranean.
Around 600 refugees were crammed into an old fishing boat that was far too small. Forty-five of them were trapped in a storage hold where they died, probably from breathing the fumes coming from motors.
This was just one of the tragedies that occur almost daily in this portion of the Mediterranean closest to the African coasts. Increasing numbers of people have fled these coasts to escape the wars that ravage their home countries, or to escape from desperate poverty. At least 400 migrants have died in the first half of this year, which is certainly a low estimate since it doesn’t include those who have disappeared and are therefore difficult to count.
In 2013, according to the United Nations, 51 million refugees in the world – of whom half were children – fled from armed conflicts or other crisis situations that created famine and poverty. This is the highest number since the end of World War II.
Since the beginning of 2014, the number of migrants landing in southern Italy has grown. About 60,000 people, most from sub-Saharan Africa, are stranded in overcrowded and often dilapidated detention centers, after an incredibly dangerous journey. The local governments are supposed to take responsibility for the migrants but lack the funding to do so, resulting in the deplorable conditions at the detention centers.
After 400 migrants died off the coast of Lampedusa last October, Italy started patrols near the Libyan coast to intercept boats of illegal immigrants. But this can’t halt the growing numbers of refugees and it doesn’t solve the inadequate way they are received in Italy.
Last May, the new Prime Minister of Italy, Matteo Renzi, declared “Europe has abandoned us. It is just not possible to save governments and banks but to leave mothers and their children to die.” As if the national government that he leads hasn’t done just that!
This faked moral indignation can’t hide the responsibility that the Italian government shares with all of the European governments in the series of tragedies taking place in the Mediterranean. Their policies of restricting legal immigration encourage the unscrupulous organizers of these perilous crossings. And the European Union, just like the different national governments, never has any problem finding the money to repress immigration and surround Europe with new barriers that it hopes will be more insurmountable.
The number of drowning deaths in the Mediterranean is part of the grim ledger of suffering created by this capitalist society, in which Europe is but an island of relative well-being. Its leaders are trying to keep it blocked off to the massive numbers of poor people that their system has created.