02 July 2008

June 2008

ROME - At least 185 migrants and asylum seekers have died during the month of June 2008 along the EU borders, 173 of them just in the Strait of Sicily. Four people died in the Canary Islands, after their arrival. In Italy, two Iraqis were found dead in the port of Venice inside containers on two different ferries coming from Greece. In Turkey two migrants have died after the truck where they were travelling hidden had an accident in the eastern province of Dogubayazit, and a Somali was shot dead during a riot in the migrant detention camp of Kırklareli, near the Bulgarian border. Three other refugees were shot dead along the Egyptian border with Israel. One of the victims was a seven years old Sudanese girl, killed on June 28th.

Sinai confirms to be the new route for Eritreans and Sudaneses refugees, who instead of the Libyan prisons and the death in the sea prefer the Jewish state. In 2007, according to the UNHCR, about 5,000 asylum seekers entered Israel. Meanwhile, Egypt has reinforced its control devices, allowing the border police to open fire on the migrants. Since the beginning of 2008 at least 16 people have been shot dead. Since Israel asked Egypt for a greater effort to prevent the problem, a vast operation of arrests and deportations´has been launched, in particular against the Eritreans. According to Amnesty International 1,600 Eritrean have been arrested and 810 of them have already been deported in the second half of June. It is the biggest deportation program of the recent years in Egypt and it could represent the beginning of a new time of harsh repression against African refugees. Meanwhile who managed to cross the Sinai looks for a new life in Israel.

Har Zion street, 3. It is one of the addresses of Eritrean diaspora in Tel Aviv. A three floors building where a hundred of refugees from the Horn of Africa live. The mattresses are everywhere. On the stair, along the corridors. Beyené opens the door of a room: 13 people sleep on the floor. At 11 o'clock in the morning television is turned on and someone is still sleeping. Beyené is Eritrean. He arrived in Tel Aviv 25 days ago. He entered from Egypt. He left Sudan with his wife. But she is still held at Ketziot, the Israeli detention camp in the desert of Sinai. Beyené is one of the 10,000 asylum seekers entered Israel in recent years. Everything started in 2006 when about 1,200 asylum seekers cross the Sinai border, six times the 200 people arrived in 2005. Then 5,500 Africans entered Israel in 2007 and already 2,000 did it during the first quarter of 2008. They are mainly Sudaneses and Eritreans. And it is not a coincidence. On December 30th 2005, Egyptian riot police rushed into a crowd of 3.500 unarmed Sudanese migrants killing at least 26 people, including 7 women and two children, after the group refused to leave the public park of “Mustafa Mahmoud” in Cairo , which they had occupied for three months hoping to pressure United Nations officials to relocate them in a third safe Country. The climate of repression in Egypt, the impossibility of return in Darfur as in Southern Sudan, and the risks of dying in the sea trying to reach Italy, opened a breach in the barbed wire fence which divides Egypt from Israel. The Sudaneses refugees were soon followed by the Eritreans, many of whom fled from Sudan, where the Government has recently ordered Eritrean opposition offices closed.

Beyené spent two years in the capital of Sudan, Khartoum. With his wife, he paid 800 U.S. dollars a head for the journey to Aswan, in Egypt. A five days journey in the desert - he says - less hard than that one towards Kufrah, in Libya, which take ten days and where many people died on the way. From Aswan they reached Cairo by train. At the train station a so called connection man was waiting for them. Another 700 U.S. dollars a head and within a few days they were brought to the border. First by road, hidden in the trucks. Then by foot, at night, in the desert, till the Egyptian guides cut with shears the one metre high barbed wire fence. They were told to cross and wait for the Israeli soldiers on the other side. Once intercepted they were brought to the camp of Ketziot. It is a tent camps where 1,200 people are held under the sun. It has been opened in July 2007, in the courtyard of a prison close to Gaza used for the administrative detention of Palestinians political prisoners. The wife of Beyené is still there. He has been released with a temporary document of "conditional release". He can work, but only in the city where he was assigned, not in Tel Aviv. In mid-July, the permit expires. They should renew it, but it is not sure. Meanwhile, his application for asylum is pending to the UNHCR, but they do not have enough staff to do the interviews. UNHCR is instead focusing in requests for the release of thousands of asylum seekers kept in Ketziot camp and looking for collective regularisations, as the temporary work permit recently given to 600 Darfur Sudaneses and to about 2,000 Eritreans. The recognized refugees in Israel are only 86. Meanwhile, on May 19th 2008, the Israeli Parliament approved the first reading of a proposed Governmental law for the prevention of infiltration. The new law includes immediate return to the border and 5 years of imprisonment on any person illegally entering Israel, which become 7 years for the citizens of the enemies States: Iran, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Libya, Sudan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen and Palestine. The proposed law now will return to the Parliament Interior Committee and will be voted in a second and a third reading. On the benches of Parliament there is no proposal for an asylum law. The reasons are many. The political issue of Palestinian refugees and more generally of the enemies States refugees; the possible arrival of part of the two millions Iraqi refugees now living in Syria and Jordan; and last but not least the ideological question of the Jewish state. In Tel Aviv anyone says it: "We are not supposed to be an immigration State, but a Jew State". The about 180,000 foreigner workers temporary employed in the Country - Nepalese, Chinese, Thai, Indian or Filipino – are welcome. The economy need them. But for the refugees is not the same.

The situation of Eritreans refugees keeps worst also in Libya. According to Habeshia, 700 Eritreans are still held in detention in Misratah, since 2006, including 60 women and 30 children. And 133 other Eritreans are detained in Ijdabiya, after being arrested at sea. The Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi flew to Tripoli for a meeting with Qaddafi, on June 27th. Italy is going to finance part of the radar system for the Lybian southern border control. But before it asks Libya to give the green light to the joint patrols in the Libyan waters, as previewed by the agreements of December 29th 2007. Italian ships are ready, said the Interior Minister Roberto Maroni. But what will be the patrolling rules? And what are the rules of the Frontex going on patrolling of the Strait of Sicily, Nautilus III? During a question time in the Maltese Parliament, the Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi said they are "top secret". But a German journalist broke the silence over the operations leaded in the Mediterranean by Italy, Malta, France, Germany, Spain and Greece. His name is Roman Herzog and in his last audio documentary, “War in the Mediterranean”, a high official of the Italian Guardia di Finanza admits that some naval units of Frontex seize food and fuel from the migrants boats to force them to return to the ports of departure. A practice which has not been disproved by the Frontex director Ilkka Laitinen, also interviewed in the documentary.

Libya has repatriated at its own expenses 30,940 migrants in 2007 and now claims one billion euros of aid. In 2006 Libya had repatriated 64,430 immigrants with a cost of four millions euros. Meanwhile arrivals on Italian coasts are more than tripled in the first five months of 2008: 7,077 people against 2,087 during the same period in 2007. More women (11% against 8% last year) and more refugees from the Horn of Africa (30%), in particular from Sudan and Somalia. And also more boats leaving from Egypt. The number of victims has also increased. In the first half of 2008 at least 311 people have died in the Strait of Sicily, 173 of them just in June. During the entire 2007 the documented victims were 556. In the last shipwreck, on June 7th, at least 140 people lost life. Wali Adbel Motagali is the only survivor. In an interview given to the Egyptian newspaper al-Ahram he said: "I met a man in the al-Jumua market in Tripoli who offered me a journey to Italy for 1,000 U.S. dollars. On June 5th we were brought to the west of Tripoli, where we stayed for two nights. They put us on a boat which could not carry more than 40 people and after only one hour of navigation the engine was broken. We tried in vain to repair it. Shortly after we started to embark water. People panicked because they can’t swim and their movement made the boat capsized and they drowned." The other tragedies haven’t neither witnesses nor survivors. But only corpses. Fished in the high seas or washed ashore in Malta and Sicily.

On the opposite side of Mediterranean, Spain has been accused by Amnesty International for the conditions of migrants arrested in Mauritania in their attempt to reach the Spanish Canary islands. Since 2006 thousands of people were imprisoned in the Nouadhibou migrants detention camp, funded by Spain, and then returned to the border with Senegal and Mali. Amnesty revealed the agreements between Spain and Mauritania, and expressed concern about the 5,000 people intercepted by the Frontex patrols in the Atlantic and forced to return to Africa. The report of Amnesty offers a case study on the 369 passengers of Marine I, the ship intercepted on January 30th 2007, who were kept in detention in degrading conditions for months, and then near all repatriated to India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Guinea. Meanwhile, further north, undocumented migrants blocked in Morocco, are trying to reach Europe at any costs. Swimming to Ceuta, or assaulting the Melilla border checkpoint, as 70 African migrants did on June 22nd. Some fifty of them were arrested.

They will soon be deported to Algeria and from there to Mali. It happened the same also to one of the survivors of the Hoceima shipwreck of April 28th, arresteded and abandoned in the desert, near Tinzaouatine. Like him at least 12,200 migrants have been arrested in 2007 in the region of Tamanrasset, in the southeast of Algeria, and then deported. The country, which also lives the drama its own emigration towards EU, has recently adopted a new immigration law which provides the creation of migrants detention camps, until now held in prisons, old facilities and police stations. For the first time, Fortress Europe is able to show a photo-reportage on the arrests and deportations in the Algerian desert, produced by Bahri Hamza. If the new Algerian camps, funded by Europe, will stop African migrants, we don’t know. But meanwhile, a research just published by the International Organization for Migrations (Iom) dismantled the fundamental thesis of EU anti-immigration policies. According to the figures and not to the fears, there is no evidence that migration from West Africa to the Maghreb and Europe is growing at an alarming rate. It remains modest in comparison to migration from North Africa and Eastern Europe. And the majority of undocumented migrants don’t come by boat, but they enter Europe legally and subsequently overstay their tourist visas.