Ghost shipwrecks. Zarzis, southern Tunisia. It was the 25th of May and a fisherman found a body with the fishes in the nets. It is just the last victim of one of the many ghost shipwrecks. Only the sea could tell his secrets. According to Fortress Europe, at least 2,044 migrants drowned in the Strait of Sicily during the last ten years, 111 of them just in the last month of May. But nobody actually know what happened in the open sea. A week before, the 18th of May, 25 people and 3 children drowned after their boat capsized in the stormy sea, 75 miles off Malta. The only survivor, a 21-years-old boy from Ivory Coast, was picked up by a fisherman, after he spent 10 hours struggling to keep afloat.
“We were risking to lose our tuna”. Sunday the 28th of May, 27 young people from Nigeria and Rwanda, rescued by an Italian vessel on Saturday after they held on to a Maltese-owned tuna pen (Budafel) for nearly 24 hours, finally arrived in Lampedusa. As Malta and Libya shifted the problem onto each other, a Maltese boat refused to take the immigrants on board. “We risked to lose our tunas” said the owner of Budafel, Charles Azzopardi. In the meanwhile Malta refused to take the 27 shipwrecked rescued by a Spanish trawler 87 miles off the island, then obliged to sail back to Spain, as they were picked up within the Libyan search and rescue area. Malta took at least the 25 Somalis rescued by the Italian fishing vessel Esaco the 30th of May, after their boat capsized. But, ten days later, refused the landing of the French Navy ship “La Motte Picquet”, which found 21 bodies floating off the coast of Malta. Life value does not seem to be the same for everyone. And it was definitively clear the 21st of May.
Shame of Malta. It was 9,30 and one of the Eritreans aboard a boat of ten meters left from Libya, called ms. Lepten, an Eritrean woman living in Bologna. The engine was broken, the boat embarked water while the captain was ill, keeping vomiting. For a couple of hours a Maltese airplane in recognition turned over their heads, 88 miles south of Malta. Then it disappeared. Other satellite phone calls gave the alarm to the relatives in England, Genova and Bergamo. Aboard there were 57 passengers, six were children. At 14,30 the telephones stopped ringing. The airplane, returned to the Valletta in order to make fuel, came back in the area at 16,00. Two hours later, a Maltese patrol vessel reached it. But among the waves of the stormy sea, there wasn’t any more trace of the boat. The arrival of the rescue vessel took more than 10 hours. Too much. The searches continued during the next days, with the participation of a ship of the Italian Navy. But there was nothing to do. A faster intervention could have avoided such a big tragedy.
Less arrivals, more deaths. In the first five months of 2007, at least 131 migrants died in the Strait of Sicily, and 35 drowned along the routes from Algeria to Sardinia. The total is 145. They were 286 all over the year 2006. Landing are continuing, but the number of the arrivals on the Italian shores are clearly lessening. From the first of January to the 14th of May 2007 only 3,022 people landed in Italy. The 27% less comparing with the 4,165 of the same period in 2006. The landing in Lampedusa halved (1,855 against 4.021), while the number of people heading to Sardinia (253), and Calabria (529) is increasing. They are official figures, presented by the Minister for the Relationships with the Parliament, Vannino Chiti, who said Italy has a “close collaboration with Libya in the contrast of illegal immigration”. The minister maybe forgot the collateral effects of this collaboration: arbitrary arrests, detention without judgement, tortures and mass deportations, already denounced by Human Rights Watch and Afvic.
Until what? Fortress Europe had already denounced it in December 2006: more than 400 Eritreans and Ethiopians detained in Libya fearing deportation. A report today confirmed by a high level Libyan official, who says, asking the anonymity, that the 400 migrants are still detained in “worrying conditions”, in a detention centre in Misratah. “They have been intercepted in the sea by Libyan Coast guards and arrested. There are three political refugees recognised by the High commissariat of the United nations for refugees (Unhcr). And there are 50 women and 7 children, of an age between few months and 7 years”. They have being detained since 6 months, without any process, in a jail where abuses and tortures are regularly practiced, as denounced the reports of Human Rights Watch and Afvic, and as the recent book “Mamadou va a morire”, by Gabriele Del Grande, confirmed. “Soon or later they will be transferred to Kufrah and then deported at the border, in the desert”, concludes the official. Since September 2006, Libya has deported at least 12,000 migrants, according to the few official reports. Arrested in the sea, like the 400 of Misratah, in the middle of the desert or during the raids in the black quarters of Tripoli, Benghazi and Zuwarah.
Nautilus II. The next Frontex operation in the Channel of Sicily, called Nautilus II, will be lead by Malta and Greece, it will take 5 weeks and will start by the end of June. Malta and Greece have already been denounced many times by Amnesty International for the violation of asylum right. In 2002 Malta deported to Asmara 224 Eritreans asylum seekers, until now detained in a special jail on Dahlak Kebir island. And the Greek Coast guards, in September 2006, made 8 people drowned, throwing them into the sea, along the Turkish shores of Karaburun. These are the two countries charged to grant the respect of human rights in an operation aimed to stop migrants boats and bring them back to the departure ports, in Libya. “Once back in Libya, they all will be arrested and deported”, says the official heard from Fortress Europe. And then they will spend months in jails where abuses and tortures against migrants are practiced, waiting to be deported, even if asylum seekers. Since several years Tripoli has been deporting asylum seekers towards countries like Sudan and Eritrea, in 2004 also on two flights financed by Italy. If the European Union doesn’t have any representation in Libya, who will protect the human rights of migrants rejected by Frontex? Nevertheless the Eu knows the Libyan context. Actually the first denounce of the abuses against migrants in Qaddafi’s country came from an Eu report dated December 2004.
Less pirogues. Madrid fears the invasion, and so it found the money to build a new immigrants detention centre in Almeria, sent an airplane in Cape Verde and another one in Mauritania, where they are still detained, 100 days after their arrest, 23 of the 300 Asians passengers of Marine I, the ship intercepted in February off Nouadhibou. But the official figures shows there is no invasion. From the first of January to the 15th May 2007, only 3,012 migrants landed in Canary islands, and at least 750 have already been repatriated in Senegal and Morocco. It is less than the third part compared to the 9,239 who landed in the same period in 2006. And also in Andalusia, along the southern coast of Spain, the arrivals decreased of 45% in the first 4 months of 2007. Anyway people continue to die. Eight men are reported to be missing off Boujdour, in the Western Sahara. Three others people were found dead aboard a shipwrecked pirogue off Lompoul, in Senegal. It is not yet clear how many other passengers were aboard the boat, which normally carries even 100 people. Then 13 Moroccans, aged between 20 and 23 years, drowned in the strait of Gibraltar. They sailed from Temesmen, close to Nador, in Morocco. Only three people have been rescued by the Spanish Civil Guard. Eight of them came from Hay Nilo, a village of the region of Oujda, along the Moroccan border with Algeria, where in the meanwhile the Moroccan Armed Forces keep on deporting hundreds of sub-Saharan young people arrested in Casablanca, Nador, Tanger and Rabat.
Asylum? No, thanks. After the 450 sub-Saharan migrants deported from Morocco in Algeria in December 2006, in the first four months of this year 389 migrants have already been arrested in Nador and abandoned at the border, together with people intercepted along the coasts between Dakhla and Tarfaya, while sailing to the Canary, at least 200 only in the month of May. Among them there are always few refugees. And a fifty refugees and asylum seekers organized a sit in at Rabat, in front of the centre of the Unhcr, asking for the respect of their rights. Recognized refugees in Morocco are not more then 600. At the end the sit in was dispersed by the intervention of the police, called by the Unhcr. But the asylum right is at risk not only in Morocco, not only in Africa. In Iran, for example, where thousands of Afghans are being repatriated. Or in Calais, where police raids keep on in the forest where migrants live hidden around the French port on the Channel. And also in the United Kingdom, where the repatriations of Iraqi Kurds asylum seekers are going on, as if Iraq was safe.