02 April 2008

March 2008

ROME - "The last thing I remember was a tremendous rumble, like a bomb. I remember I flew in the dark and then the icy water. The ship flew in pieces: iron bars, glasses, plates and woods fell down over our heads […]” It was the 28th March 1997 and the Italian corvette Sibilla collided with the old Albanian ship Kater I Rades, 25 miles off Puglia. 108 people died. The 19th March 2005 the Court of Brindisi sentenced the Kater commander, Namik Xhaferi, to four years of jail and Fabrizio Laudadio, the commander of Sibilla, to three years. Each family of the victims has been compensated with 35,000 euros. In 1999 the families of the 20 Italian victims of Cermis incident were compensated with 2 millions euro. The life of an Italian is worth as those of 60 Albanians. The commanders have been found guilty, but no Court will judge the politicians and the generals who gave Sibilla the order to hit the Albanian ship and sink it. They were escaping from the civil war broken out in Albania as a result of a heavy financial crisis. Three days before, 25th March, the Italian government had signed a treaty with the Albanian President Sali Berisha in order to patrol the sea and return the migrants, despite the negative opinion of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Fazlum Karim.

Eleven years later. At least 26 migrants were reported to be died at the gates of Europe during the month of March, but dozens of people could be missing at sea in the same period. Victims of different ghost shipwrecks in Western Sahara, in Turkey, in Spain and in Algeria. Boats sank but only few bodies are recovered along the coast. No trace of the ship, nobody will ever know the exact number of the drowned passengers. Two dead were instead found on board a pirogue which reached the Canary Islands, where arrivals are slightly increasing: 1,702 people in the first quarter of 2008 compared with 1,425 during the same period in 2007. Arrivals are also increasing in Lampedusa, in Italy, where more than 3,000 immigrants landed only in the first three weeks of March. While in Egypt the police shot dead three other refugees trying to slip across the border into Israel. One of them was a 25-years-old Eritrean woman, called Karina, killed by three bullet wounds, including one in the head. Egyptian police have killed at least 10 migrants since the start of the year and detained scores others, mostly from Africa, after Israel put pressure on Cairo to reduce the flow of refugees crossing illegally, mostly Sudaneses and Eritreans. At the March list of victims it should be added the names of Rachid Abdelsalam and Ahmad Mahmud El Sabah, died in the migrants detention centre of Rotterdam, in Netherlands, after failure to provide them adequate health care. Instead, the names of the 128 Somalis drowned off Yemen won’t be ever known. The victims of Somali exodus in the Gulf of Aden are thousands every year.

Video Gli harragas di AnnabaHarragas. Kamal is 39-years-old. He was born in Sidi Salem, near Annaba, in Algeria. I met him in Cagliari, in Sardinia (Italy), near the small mosque, in front of which every Friday dozens of men kneel down on the carpet among the parked cars and the passers-by, in the direction of the holy city of Mecca. The same mosque since one year helps migrants who landed in Sardinia, before they leave towards Rome, Naples, or Marseille. Kamal, one year ago used to live in Tunis, working as a carpenter. At the beginning of 2007 he heard from the newspapers that for the first time a group of Algerians landed in Europe sailing towards Sardinia. He suddenly decided to come back to Algeria, but not to remain there. He knew everyone in Annaba, and it was simple to found the right contact. He paid 10,000 dinars, about one thousand euros. A friend joined him immediately, with his wife. Fifteen days later, a night in May, they took off from the beach of Sidi Salem. Four boats carrying eight or nine passengers each one. But the stormy sea convinced the fishermen to turn back. With the same ticket, they left again, three months later, the 28th August 2007. Kamal remembers his seasickness, his nausea, his anxiety, in the night, when they saw the light of a ship of the Italian Navy at the horizon, few miles from them. Then, after a moment of silence, he told me about those bodies floating in the waves. About ten. They passed close to them. Today Kamal works in a joinery. He earns 300 euros per month. He can’t ask for more, he does not have the documents. Anyway in Algeria he can’t earn more than 100 euros. However here he doesn’t pay any rent. He lives in an abandoned house, in Cagliari. He will spend the money to get married. A marriage in Algeria does not cost less than 5,000 euros. His father? He knew everything and he was worried for him, but what could he tell to his son? Any speech has become useless against harragas anger.

Dead or alive, we must go! Anger and pain. They are the feelings sung by Algerian rapper in Arabic. They narrated dreams and defeats of the harragas, that in Arabic means “who burns” the frontiers. They are really famous song and they do like this. "They see this country as a prison, as a tomb. They say: there is no luck, there's nothing, only hatred." Poor people as well as graduated and officials leave the Country. Because “hope is far beyond the sea”, every day someone tries to leave, “especially when he sees his friends coming back in the summer from Europe. They grew up here with nothing and now they are well. Europe gave them a work, a home and a car. And you remain here depressed and you can not do anything. They tell you of their lives there ... And you become more disheartened”. The journey is dangerous, newspapers write of Algerians detained in Libya and Tunisia, since the beginning of 2008, at least 13 harragas have already died, but on have to be brave: "My house is far, my boat is small. Let’s pray God and do not forget me. I’m alone in the middle of the sea, lost and stranger, I feel cold and fear.” You can hear these two songs in the documentary “Gli harraga di Annaba”, but emigration is also at the centre of the famous “Ya Lebhar” of Lofti Double Kanon, with a strong video, and of “Partir Loin” of Reda Talieni. Even in Senegal, music denounces the condition of an entire generation ready to die in the sea, because they can’t stand any more scandals of its politicians. The single is called Sunugaal, by Awadi and Kirikou, it is in Wolof and translated it does more or less like that: “All your beautiful words, all your beautiful promises, we always wait for them... All this noise, it is not what we hoped for. Our dugouts flow and it is our kids who leave it their life”.

Trial against the Guardia Civil. They tried to reach Ceuta by swimming. One of them drowned. It was 26th September 2007. Six months later, the truth begins to emerge. That night a patrol boat of the Spanish authorities intercepted at sea three men and a woman swimming from the Moroccan coast toward the beach of Ceuta. The three agents took them on board and brought them back to the Moroccan coast. Then they threw them in the water, in front of the seaside, after having punctured their lifejacket. Laucling Sonko, born in 1979 in Senegal, couldn’t swim. He died under their eyes. Today he is buried in the cemetery of Santa Catalina, in Ceuta. The sister and brother-in-law were waiting him in Vícar, a town in the province of Almería, in Spain. Now they ask for justice. The Spanish ONG “Comisión Española de Ayuda al Refugiado” (Cear) denounced the homicide. The general attorney of Ceuta opened an investigation. The three officers are accused of murder. According to the testimonies of survivors, the victim “asked for help, saying he can’t swim.” But the agents just “laughed at him.” When they realized that he was really drowning, one of them tried to save him, but it was too late.

Robert Dziekanski. Someone will remember this name. He was a Polish immigrant who arrived at the Vancouver International Airport, in Canada, on 13 October 2007, where he died shortly after being tasered at least twice by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) after waiting 10 hours at the airport. He was 40 years old, and spoke no English. A video showing how Dziekanski was killed reopened a debate over the risks of taser. Taser is an electroshock gun meant to stun and subdue a targeted subject from a distance up to ten metres. According to Amnesty International, 277 people in the United States have died after being shocked by a Taser between 2001 and 2007. The 80% of them were unarmed. But the Swiss parliament didn’t care of these risks and, the 18th March 2008, approved the use of taser in the deportations of immigrants. Spain instead prefers straitjacket to repatriate people. All this happens in a Europe where the administrative detention of foreigners and the abuses to which they are subjected, have been normalised. The two deaths in the Dutch detention centres last month are only the latest of a shameful death list. Even the “Committee on Civil Liberties and Justice” of the European Parliament denounced the condition of detention of migrants in a recent reports. Meanwhile the European parliament will soon vote, in May 2008, a proposal for a directive concerning the detention and deportation of immigrants. If it were to be adopted, would represent yet another regression. In foreseeing detention that could be extended up to 18 months for people whose only offence is to want to live in Europe. The MEPs have a historic responsibility. To put pressure on them you can sign a petition on line.

Between the hammer and the anvil. The 80% of Iraqis asylum seekers in Germany, Sweden and Cyprus are recognized as political refugees. In Greece the percentage is of 0%. It’s not a mistake. Zero percent. The figures were given by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (Ecre), which called on the EU to halt the deportation of asylum seekers to Greece under the Dublin II Regulation as the Greek authorities in 2007 didn't grant protection to one Iraqi or Afghan refugee. Norway, Sweden and Germany have already done it. “Greece is not a safe country”, told the Ecre secretary, Bjarte Vandvik. The Greek law provides the annulment of any application for asylum in case of unauthorized departure from the place of residence. That is to say that all the asylum seekers readmitted in Greece receive a refusal and are often deported to Turkey. The EU accuses Turkey because it does not patrol enough its borders; but Turkey is also accused by the NGO Helsinki Citizens' Assembly, detailing the limited access to rights and the poor conditions that refugees in Turkey face in detention, including severe beatings by the police.

Unwelcome guests. “Because of the bad situation we were in, one of us tried to kill himself by banging his head against the wall… The police attacked him and beat him in front of us until he lost consciousness.” This is what a Mauritanian refugee held in a detention facility near İzmir, told to the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly. It’s just one of the 40 testimonies collected by the report “Unwelcome Guests: The Detention of Refugees in Turkey's Foreigners’ Guesthouses." Turkey is not a safe country for a refugee, especially if he is Kurdish. On 18th March 2008 a Kurdish of Turkish nationality was repatriated from Italy. For security reasons we can’t write his name. But according to his lawyer, working for the NGO Senza Confine, he was arrested as soon as he landed in Turkey. Three days later, 21st March, Turkish authorities banned gatherings in several cities after celebrations to mark the Kurdish New Year, or Newroz, turned violent. One person died from a bullet wound in the town of Yuksekova, in southern Hakkari province, where riot police clashed with hundreds of people protesting, hospital sources said to Al Jazeera. But it seems not to be a problem for the EU, which has just given 53.4 million euro to Turkey in order to improve its patrol capacity. Along the borders there are nothing else that illegals and any means to stop them is allowed.