02 May 2008

April 2008

Campement de migrants dans la forêt, photo de Anaïs PachabézianROME – They were undocumented migrants but above all they were inconvenient witnesses. So they were deported and abandoned in a no man’s land, without neither water nor food, along the Algerian border. They are the survivors of the shipwreck which took place on April 28 off Hoceima, on the way from Morocco to Spain, causing the death of 36 people, including two women and four babies. They accuse Morocco’s Royal Navy of having pierced the inflatable boat with which the victims were sailing, making it sink. Rabat denied any responsibility. Fortress Europe managed to reach them by phone, thanks to a member of a Moroccan Ngo. The declaration of three of the survivors coincide. The 9 meters long Zodiac, carrying about 80 passengers from Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon and Mali, departed at 2 o’clock a.m. from Hoceima, 150 km east of Melilla. Five hours later, it was intercepted in high sea. "The military came close - Fred cries on the telephone – and then one of them pierced with a knife the rubber dinghy." Within a few minutes the boat deflates, capsized and sank. People who couldn’t swim immediately drowned. A woman drowned holding her baby tightly to her chest. Not far away another woman and three babies disappeared among the waves. A total of 36 people died. In the meanwhile the boat of Morocco’s Navy went away. They came back only after one hour, with three motorboats which rescued the 42 survivors. They were transferred to the mainland in Hoceima and kept in detention for 48 hours, locked in a room, without neither water and food nor a bathroom. “Then they loaded us on a bus – told one of the Nigerian survived women – and left us at the border with Algeria, in a no man's land, it was far from Oujda”. After a long march by foot they managed to reach a camp of two hundred deported, amid the woods. “We built shelters for the night with plastic - explains one of them - we live on charity, many are sick." Life conditions are very bad, but coming back to Rabat, after the last raids in the city, is unimaginable. Meanwhile, seven of the 42 survivors died in the camp. They were not able to stand the shipwreck, the pain, the hunger, the thirst and the long march by foot.

Piercing an overcharged inflatable boat in high sea, making it sink and causing the death of 36 people, in English is called "multiple murder". But evidently in darija, the Moroccan language, it should be called in some other way, since no newspaper reported the news. For the umpteenth time, no one will pay nothing for the lives of the others. It is shameful. And it is even worst considered that 40 motorboats recently purchased by the Moroccan authorities were financed with European funds. It's always the same story. Europe contracts the patrol of its southern borders and closes the eyes on the crimes committed by its new gendarmes.

At least 101 migrants and refugees have died during the month of April 2008 at the gates of European Union. Five men died hidden in the hold of a cargo vessel landed in the Canary Islands; four people lost their lives along the border between Turkey and Iraq, drowned after being thrown into a river by Turkish police during a forced expulsion, and one Eritrean refugee was shot dead under the fire of Egyptian police along the Israeli border. Amid sea, apart from the 43 victims of Hoceima, 24 people drowned between Algeria and Spain and 24 between Tunisia and Italy, off the Sicilian coast, where in recent weeks a sharp increase in landings were registered, because of the good weather and the delay of Frontex joint patrolling start.

Just in the last week of April over 1,000 migrants arrived in Lampedusa, mainly north Africans and partly Somalis. On April 24 a shipwreck off Chebba, the closest point to Lampedusa on the Tunisian coast, made 23 victims. The day after, another tragedy happened 80 miles south of the island. During the night the Italian coastguard rescued, in Maltese waters, a ship carrying 241 passengers. They were transferred on the motorboats, but during the operations, two men fell into water. The petty officers Federico Nicoletti and Oronzo Oliva did not hesitate and plunged themselves at their own risk, despite the stormy sea. They managed to retrieve them, but unfortunately one of the two migrants died shortly after. An act of courage, which give honour to the two petty officers, who in fact will soon receive a prize by the Coastguard and by the Unhcr. A gesture which reaffirms the priority of life, in a Mediterranean where migrants are often rejected and sometimes killed, as a few weeks ago in Morocco, as in Greece in 2006, as also in Italy with the carnage caused by the Military Navy corvette Minerva in Lampedusa in 2006 and by the Sibilla off Puglia in 1997.

Figures on rescue at sea confirm the effort of the Italian coastguard. The 44% of 560 rescue operations at sea carried out during the first six months of 2007 by the Italian coastguard were done in Maltese Sar (search and rescue) waters, “many of whom were born in Libyan Sar waters”, says a note sent to the Foreign Ministry by the Coastguard in the month of October 2007. Maltese authorities do not cooperate. And the Libyans are worthless, as recently, according to indiscretions not yet confirmed, their coastguard would have fired on a migrants boat killing some passengers. Malta has a Sar area as large as Britain, too vast to be patrolled with its own means. Yet Malta will not reduce of one meter its Sar waters, because that area corresponds to a Fir (flight information service) area that fruits to the small State a right of passage for every plane flying over the area. In the meanwhile the start of Frontex joint patrol Nautilus III was again postponed. Malta, Italy, France and Germany are at loggerheads over who should be responsible for migrants saved in Libya's search and rescue area during the mission.

Finally a good news from Libya. Other 30 Eritrean refugees, mostly women, were resettled in Italy thanks to the mediation of Unhcr, Iom, Italian Ministry of Interior, and the Ngo Cir. It is the second resettlement from Misratah after the 40 Eritreans arrived in Italy at November. Yet more than 700 Eritreans, and a minority of Ethiopians, are still detained in the camp of Misratah, someone since two years. And recently other 110 Eritreans, including 20 women, were arrested during raids in the Libyan cities and transferred to the detention camp of Zliten, halfway between Khums and Misratah. Actually less Eritreans arrived in Lampedusa during the last months. Many have been arrested in Libya. The others one are waiting. The voice of resettlement has spread through word of mouth. In recent months the Unhcr bureau in Tripoli registered a lot of application for asylum made by Eritreans. But actually it is hard to imagine, that the new right wing Italian government, and especially the xenophobe party of the “Lega Nord”, will ever approve new resettlement.

After Greece is the time of Turkey. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, earlier asked European countries to suspend the Dublin Convention with Greece, and now “deplores” refugees’ expulsion in Iraq by Turkey, after an expulsion resulted in four deaths. On Wednesday 23 April the Turkish authorities attempted to forcibly deport 60 people of various nationalities to Iraq through the official border crossing of Habur (Silopi) in Sirnak province in southeastern Turkey. The Iraqi border authorities allowed 42 Iraqis to enter the country, but refused to admit 17 Iranian and one Syrian nationals. The Turkish police then took the 18, which included five Iranian refugees recognised by Unhcr, to a place where a river separates the two countries, and forced them to swim across. Four persons, including a refugee from Iran, were swept away by the strong river current and drowned. Their bodies could not be recovered. Unhcr had sent previous communications to the Turkish government requesting that the five Iranian refugees, who had all been detained after attempting to cross into Greece in an irregular manner, not be deported. Despite Unhcr's requests, the refugees were put in a bus and deported. The EU, as usual, did not commented the crime.

We conclude with an excerpt of a report by Sara Prestianni, which in March 2008 interviewed migrants forcibly deported from Algeria to Mali, in the Malian city of Kidal. “Algerian policemen did what they want with us, they club you also if you just try to talk to them – said a Nigerian man -. In the detention camp in Tamanrasset 300 people slept in the same room. They give us only bread and milk, once a day. " After the expulsion “loaded on military trucks completely closed, without any windows” towards the border of Bordj Mokhtar, in the heart of the desert of Sahara, migrants reach by foot the oasis of Tinzaoutine. “In Tinzaouatine there’s nothing, you’re in the desert. Fortunately I had money and I paid 1,400 dinar to a driver to bring me to Kidal. Living in Tinzaouatine without money is a tragedy. Those remained for a long time now are crazy”. Today he lives in a ghetto in Kidal, 300 km south of Tinzaouatine, a house rented to tens of migrants, who share the few metres of floor sleeping side by side, on the ground. Voices and pictures from the ghetto of Kidal are on the website of Storie Migranti.