MalDia 08 (07-01-15) most dangerous route in the world

Now that the transitional clamour of booting out the old and ringing in the new has subsided, Malta faces the sombre prospect of anticipating developments in the year 2015 with intense trepidation and niggling anxiety.


The outgoing year was a fortunate one with less than 2,000 illegal immigrant landings, thanks mainly to the leading role played by neighbours Italy and its Mare Nostrum programme which pledged that Italy absorbs the majority of illegal entrants into Maltese and Italian territorial waters. This followed a surge of social conscience after almost 400 people died in the space of a few days trying to reach the shores of the Italian island of Lampedusa.

 MalDia 11 (07-01-15) homeless and destitute

However, in the space of a few months this resulted in an invasion of 100,000 illegal arrivals by sea in Italy and only belatedly did the Italian Government realise that the programme based on kindness and generosity was acting as an incentive to human smugglers to boost their dirty and criminal trade.


Mare Nostrum has now been withdrawn and only Frontex operates, an EU quasi-quango which is having little or no effect to stem the tide.


In the past, the inclement winter weather and Mediterranean storms ensured a drop in flows BUT during the last two months of 2014 there was the additional arrival of 14,000 persons, due mainly to new tactics being deployed by the smugglers and because of the resultant upheavals in Libya which curtailed the previous tactic of illegals flowing into Libya and then embarking on boats to Europe. Libya has now become an equally dangerous place.


Obviously wishing to avoid jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire, many thousands of Syrians and Iraqis are making their way to various Turkish ports – deemed to be much safer than the roads through Libya routes.


Smugglers and human traffickers await them in dilapidated freighters and cargo ships and charge each person as much as 6,000 euros or the equivalent 16 grams of gold, load hundreds into the boats, embark to the EU shores of Greece, Cyprus and Italy and then abandon ship mid-sea to let it flow with the currents and hence the intervention of the forces of the country into whose territorial waters they have drifted.


One such “ghost ship” with a human cargo of over 400 Syrian refugees including pregnant women and children was towed to Italy last week by the Italian authorities. The “Ezadeen” had been abandoned by the crew and was towed into the port of Corigliano Calabro and was met by Red Cross medical staff.


Days earlier the same fate was faced by the freighter “Blue Sky M” flying the flag of Sierra Leone and carrying 1,000 human souls. The crew had jumped ship and the human cargo could not cope with steering. Fortunately, a woman migrant spoke Italian and raised the alarm over a radio call to the Italian authorities.

UNHCR, the official United Nations Refugee Agency simultaneously announced that such tactics had been deployed on a smaller scale for months but had not attracted international attention. The “Blue Sky M” incident suddenly changed all that as it jumped into the international headlines.


This was a notable change in tactics with human traffickers using larger boats and different routes to avoid the EU’s border agency Frontex’s patrols.


This Mediterranean crossing has been described by UNHCR as “the most lethal route in the world” and it is estimated that 4,000 people lost their lives in attempting the crossing in 2014.


Such a horrendous toll prompted the Italian author Aldo Busi to inform the media recently he was no longer eating Mediterranean fish.


“I do not buy Mediterranean fish anymore because I may be eating Libyans, Somalis, Syrians and Iraqis. I am not a cannibal and so I now stick to farmed fish”.


Such sentiments were long ago realised in Malta. My wife has for many months steadfastly refused to eat fish for the same reason and has joined many others in not doing so.


Recent figures state that currently in Malta there are an estimated 10,000 either illegal immigrants or those seeking refugee status adding to an already immense over-population. That however, is only part of the problem. Many of the arrivals are Muslim and hence a religious and cultural crunch with the indigenous mainly Roman Catholic population with a lengthy tradition of stoutly resisting Muslim infiltration.


In turn this has resulted in an avalanche of Islamophobia vastly reflected in popular social media such as facebook and Twitter with a glut of outrageous comments and culminating strongly last week when some members of the Moslem community requested the further building of two or three mosques and the expansion of the only Islamic school in Malta and Gozo.


The new year 2015 may yet prove to be a rough ride with increasing tensions high and an alarming lurch towards xenophobia and last week caused Malta’s President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca to appeal to the people not to manifest such anti-social traits.


I fear that such an appeal has fallen largely on deaf ears.