02 March 2007

February 2007

65 victims of illegal migration in February. 44 drowned off Greek islands and 19 were missing in the Sicily Channel. Concern over deportations in Libya and Morocco, while Frontex patrolling restarted off Canary islands. At least 8.153 people have died along Eu borders since 1988

ROME - From Kusadasi Asia and Europe can see each other eyes to eyes. From the Greek Samos island people can reach Asia in a couple of hours seated on a comfortable ferry. Twenty euros and an identity card are enough. But on the opposite route it is not the same. The travel to Europe can take years and cost thousands euro, and sometimes the life. The 17th February 25 Somalis died here. They entered in Turkey illegally from Syria, and then a wave made their boat capsize less than a mile from the doors of the old continent. Samos route is a dangerous one. Two weeks before, the 5th February, 19 people drowned off the island. And others 7 died the 18th January. The dynamics is always the same one. The three last shipwrecks have been caused by sea storms. That's because now migrant boats sail in the stormy nights to avoid sea patrolling. During the first two months of the year 51 people have already died in the Aegean. They were 73 in 2006. Along the Greek routes at least 503 people have drowned since 2001, and among them 248 were missing in the sea.

The Turkish track. Greece became an important door on Europe, via Istanbul. In the first 9 months of 2006 Athens arrested more than 23.000 people without any residence permit. Turkey is the route for Iraqi and Afghans refugees. It is sufficient to cross snowy mountains of eastern Turkey. But it is not an easy way. In 2002 19 people were found frozen in Van district, after a snow storm. Among them nine were children. The last news of migrants frozen to death go back to 2004, but, according to witnesses, every travel counts its victims until now. Today in Istanbul you can also see more and more Africans waiting for their turn to Greece. They enter one of the Gulf Countries, and then reach Turkey by Syria. And perhaps Greece was the final goal also for the 107 Somalis drowned the 15 February off Yemen.

Mined frontiers. To reach Greece from Turkey is more simple by road than by sea. The majority of the harrag travel hidden in the trucks from Istanbul to Athens. Once in Edirne or Ipsala they go out from the camion and cross the Evros river aboard on an inflatable boat and then they reach a Greek truck waiting for them on the other side, after a few hours march. For many of them Greece is just a step on the route to other countries and Patras is a good port to embark hidden on the ferry to Italy. Anyway the game is not safe. Many people died hidden in the trucks, the last 44 victims in Turkey in a car accident happened in May 2006, then 22 drowned crossing the Evros and a lot suffocated inside the containers leaving for Italy, as the two ones discovered in December in the Ancona port. Moreover the Greek Turkish frontier is mined. No migrant know it and every year someone enter in the minefield crossing by foot the border in the night. Athens is working hardly to clean the frontier from the antipersonnel devices. But in the meanwhile at least 88 people have been killed by the explosions during the last years.

On the Italian front. Migrant continue to disembark in Lampedusa island, in the Sicily Channel. The 9th February 321 people arrived on a ship 10 meters long. And the 21st other 33 ones were rescued off the island after 5 days going adrift. Among them there was also a Moroccan woman with the two daughters 8 and 12 years old. During the crossing 19 of them died from thirst and dehydration. Their bodies were thrown to the sea, with a prayer and a tear. Since 1988 at least 1.929 people died in the Sicily Channel. The worst tragedy was that one of Christmas 1996. It was the night of 25th December. 400 Asian people sailing from Egypt aboard Yohan boat, were transhipped off Sicily coast to a Maltese boat, the F174. But then the two boat collided. F174 split into three pieces and sank. 283 people drowned and just a fifty reach Greece the day after aboard the Yohan, whose captain escaped after the tragedy without sending any sos. Eleven years after the Italian government has finally announced it found the money to recover the bodies of the victim from the bottom of the sea.

Time tightens. The majority of illegal migration travels to Italy start from Libya. At the beginning of February Tripoli gave an ultimatum to the harrag. All Arabs and Africans citizen will need a visa to land in Tripoli from March 2007. Foreigners without a working contract must leave Libya within February. In March it could restart collective raids and mass deportations on a large scale. The first two months of 2007 seem to be a general test. From the first January to 17th February 3,747 foreigners have been arrested and 816 deported according to official data. Mistreatment committed against migrants by Libya is well known. Arbitrary arrests, abuses, collective deportations and non existence of asylum right have been reported firstly from the technical Mission of the European Union in Libya in 2004, and then from Human Rights Watch and Afvic in 2006. But in the mere account of disembarks, the numbers of arrests and expulsions can only be shown as "good fruits" from the Italian minister of Internal affairs, Giuliano Amato.

The club of Gendarmes. After Tripoli conference in November, Libya is earning a honour place among the gendarmes of Europe. It will seat soon near Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Turkey, but also beside Mauritania and Senegal. It is a hard work: to close the porous Mediterranean frontiers. European Union do it with soft cheeks, but cannot ask certain Countries to do the same. And so nobody is scandalized if Rabat keep on with raids and deportations. In the night between 30th and 31st January 100 people were arrested in Dar al Baidà (Casablanca). All of them were then deported up to Algerian border, near Oujda and abandoned in a semi desert zone between two fires. The Moroccan soldiers from one side and the Algerian from the other one. On Christmas 2006 more than 400 black people were arrested in Morocco and deported, among them tens of women and 11 children, one of which was disabled. According to witnesses 6 women were raped, 2 from the Moroccan agents and the Algerian soldiers. And a woman in the sixth month of pregnancy lost her child. Among the 400 deported there were also 10 refugees under United Nations protection and 60 asylum seekers. Their documents were rent to pieces from the policemen. In Morocco a black is a black. One of the deported died the 21st February for a renal insufficiency. The situation to the border is critical and the presence of more than 1.000 deported in Maghnia, the first Algerian city beyond the border, make fear new mass deportations, this time from Algeria towards Tin Zawaten, Malian frontier, in the middle of the Sahara desert. It is the policy of the hot potato. Nobody wants the clandestines. And if Eu don't want them, Africa neither want it.

The east India company. Rescued off Mauritania the 4th February, the 372 passengers of "Marine I" waited eight days in the sea before Nouakchott allowed them to disembark in Nouadhibou port, at the northern border with Western Sahara. The ship, departed from Guinea or Ivory Coast, was sailing to the Canary islands. The majority aboard were Asians, 305 Indians, 22 from Myanmar and 10 from Sri Lanka. In the meanwhile 4 Spanish airplane landed in the city to repatriate the passengers.

A new Hera. A new combined aero naval patrolling of the European agency Frontex is started off African Atlantic coast along the route to Canary islands. It is called Hera III and began the 15th February with the participation of Spain, France, Luxemburg, Portugal, Germany and Italy. Experts from this Countries were sent to Las Palmas in order to investigate the exact origin of disembarked migrants. Then airplanes and ships will patrol the Atlantic waters with the aim to stop pirogues and force them to turn back. The first mission of Frontex, Hera I-II, was finished the 15th December of 2006, after 4 months of activity: 57 intercepted boats and 3,887 passengers rejected towards the African coast, while 14,572 people disembark in Canary aboard 246 pirogues in the same period. It was an expansive mission (3,5 million euro) and not so safe. Actually at least 2 of the pirogues rejected, one from the Spanish in Mauritania and the other one from Frontex in Senegal, went adrift and lost the majority of their passengers: 32 people died and 50 missing. But the risks could be higher as tens of pirogues - according to a report from Italian Coastguard - are sailing up to 300 km off the African coast in order to avoid the patrolling. There the ocean is really dangerous.