Death Boat

Death Boat

 

Addressing a political meeting following a romping victory in Malta and Gozo’s mid-term Local Elections on Sunday 19th April, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat began in sombre mood when he called the mass crowd to observe a minute’s silence to dwell on a shocking piece of news that had transpired during the night.

 

A boat carrying 900 illegal immigrants had overturned during the night just off the nearby Libyan coast when the packed occupants stampeded to one side on seeing an approaching rescue boat. The boat overturned in the darkness and so far only 55 or so persons had been rescued. The others are all presumed dead.

 

Overcrowded and not sea-worthy

Overcrowded and not sea-worthy

“As we stand here” he said amidst the subdued mood of what had been a jubilant crowd of supporters, “our soldiers and Italian soldiers are collecting the dead bodies of women and children out of the sea”. In highly emphatic tomes he lambasted the international lobby for being “totally indifferent”, leaving “our colleagues and neighbours Italy” and Malta to face the dreadful music.

 

 

Yes, Summer is on the way and things are heating up – but in a most terrible and devastating way. As has been constantly maintained here and from other various sources, this is going to develop into a crunch Summer for illegal immigration in the Mediterranean.

 

crying out for help

crying out for help

The first week of really stable Spring/Summer weather has resulted in a veritable invasion with a reported 11,000 arrivals within the space of 72 brief hours and the Italian shores of the islands of Lampedusa and Sicily have been the focus recipients.

 

However, that is a very minor part of the overall scenario. It is estimated that a further 450 people have drowned, in one instance 400 persons on a boat which also overturned and capsized when passengers had also rushed to one side of the boat as a rescue vessel approached, causing their own vessel to turn turtle.

 

11,000 arrivals in 72 hours

11,000 arrivals in 72 hours

More horrendously, an internal civil war developed on one boat when Muslim and Christian passengers came to blows with 12 of the minority Christians being thrown overboard. When the boat arrived in Trapani (Sicily), this atrocity was reported and the Italian police have 15 alleged perpetrators under arrest.

 

In an equally atrocious development in Trapani over 40 people were helped ashore suffering from severe burns, mostly women and children. Hundreds were herded into a small confinement space somewhere on the Libyan shore pending embarkation. A gas cylinder exploded, killing many and severely burning many others, including facial burns.

 

survivors

survivors

The badly burnt were refused medical treatment and herded on an open boat anyway and naturally, untreated burns exposed to sea spray and sea breeze evolve into and with atrociously painful severity consequences – and bearing in mind these were mostly women and children.

 

 

 

 

 

Landed in Lampedusa

Landed in Lampedusa

This had previously caused Malta’s Prime Minister Joe Muscat to pronounce that the Mediterranean Sea has become “the Sea of Death” and added Malta’s anger to that of Italian Government authorities that the rest of the world is doing absolutely nothing in trying to stop or deal with a daily ongoing situation.

 

These however are just the tip of a vast iceberg waiting to dissolve with disastrous consequences and visibly aided by the current and ongoing turmoil in Libya and international indifference to what is actually happening in Libya itself.

Migrants from North Africa arrive in Lampedusa 

To appreciate the turmoil, one has to have some familiarity of Libyan’s population composition.

 

 

Refugees Fleeing North African Turmoil Reach Italian Island

For many years, Marshal Tito held The Balkans in his grasp, resisted strongly any Soviet Union intrusion and formed the now defunct state of Yugoslavia. On his demise, Yugoslavia disintegrated, broke off into the states we know today i.e. Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, Slovenia etc with resultant inter-state atrocities mostly of a Muslim-Christian religious background. Many thousands perished.

 

Mu’ammar Gaddaffi held Libya together with calculated brutality making a cluster of different tribes subservient to his rule. The country developed into an oil state and attracted many hundreds of thousands migrant workers who found employment there and flooded in from Egypt, the sub-Saharan states, Palestine, Syria and many other localities.

 MalDia 09 (22-04-15) unfolding human tragedy

When Gaddaffi was removed (with Western help), it was greeted with international optimism that a new and democratic milestone had been achieved. The result was the opposite. Libya went back to its tribal loyalties and internal strife and now has two aspirant governments and has also been penetrated by ISIS.

 

Whereas the international lobby was quick to intervene to remove Gaddaffi, subsequently it has done nothing at all to deal with the resultant internal turmoil. Much has been discussed but nothing has transpired.

 

Italian police supervise

Italian police supervise

Western employees fled but many thousands non-Libyan others remained trapped with nowhere to go but Europe. These were swelled by many thousands others who flooded Libya from Syria, Nigeria, Ghana, the Ivory Coast and other African states, using Libya as a stepping stone to achieve a new life in Europe.

 

Many, many thousands are currently still being held in Libya in cruel captivity, mostly deprived of food and water, medical help and life sustaining provisions of any kind, subject to regular brutality and murder. These became easy meat for get-rich-quick smugglers providing mostly non sea-worthy boats, over-crowding hundreds into vessels than can hardly float, providing no provisions at all and charging anything from 1,000 euros to 5,000 euros a head, towing them out of territorial waters and leaving them to float with the currents.

 

looking for a new life and a future

looking for a new life and a future

Their target of course is not Malta already a vastly over-populated country and a small cluster of islands however close-distanced to the European mainland. Their target is Italy from whence they can gradually disperse and make their way to northern Europe.

 

For most of last year Italy operated a Mare Nostrum policy under which boat-loads were collected and landed in Lampedusa. However, this was wound up last November because it was felt to be acting as a greater encouragement for even more human smuggling. It has been replaced by Operation Triton which of course is still collecting but by no means preventing or deterring.

 

Solutions are difficult to envisage but salient and obvious questions abound.

 

  • If this is an international and European problem why are Italy and Malta being left alone to deal with the problem?
  • Why has the UN/NATO/EU not mounted an international naval fleet to constantly patrol Libya shores and to stop the smuggling at source?
  • With today’s technological and satellite facilities that can record even the movement of a small pebble on the moon’s surface why are not these facilities being focussed to pinpoint departure localities dotted around Libyan shores?

 

The international lobby has a lot to answer for but its only answers so far are total indifference to these human tragedies which can only continue to escalate and multiply dramatically day-by-day.

 

ALBERT FENECH

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Albert Fenech

Born in 1946, Albert Fenech’s family took up UK residence in 1954 where he spent his boyhood and youth before temporarily returning to Malta between 1957 and 1959 and then coming back to Malta permanently in 1965. He spent eight years as a full-time journalist with “The Times of Malta” before taking up a career in HR Management but still retained his roots by actively pursuing freelance journalism and broadcasting for various media outlets covering social issues, current affairs, sports and travel.