At the beginning of each summer, the same scenes are repeated: ferries coming and going; luxurious cruises “snaking” the Greek islands, with beautiful stops in Barcelona, Malta, Palermo or Naples; countless tourists come to enjoy the beautiful scenery. The summer naval traffic in the Mediterranean is very well organized, except for those who seek security and salvation, escaping the horrors of Libya.
In 2015, this terrible situation motivated the captain of the mercantile navy Klaus Vogel to found the NGO SOS Mediterranèe, which together with Médecins Sans Frontières are one of the few non-governmental organizations still active in the waters that split the North of Africa and the South of Europe. Thousands of deaths later, the situation unfortunately has worsened. In international waters, the Libyan coastguard has redesigned the map by inventing an “area of influence”, supported, or ,at least, not disturbed by the silent complicity of the European Union and Italy.
There are, however, small mitigating factors to understand such a controversial Italian stance, which is intolerable but explicable. Trapped by a populist tsunami (not unlike its western counterparts), there is a big feeling of abandonment here about the relationship with the European bloc. The Dublin Treaty and its many revisions stipulate that illegal immigrants, upon arriving in European territory, may only seek international protection, refuge or any form of documentary regularity in the countries where they entered, thereby creating a dishonest burden on the southern states and removing any kind of co-division between the other members of the bloc.
From the point of view of internal politics, when confronted with this big demographic flow and with the “turned backs” of the European partners, it is understandable that Rome has sought its own means to deal with the situation. In this context, in addition, anti-European leaders, with nationalist tendencies and flirting with xenophobia, found fertile ground to ascend to power (in view of the slogan “Prima gli italiani” – First the Italians – of the main right-wing party that arrived to the Chigi Palace, together with a new anencephalic movement without definite positioning called “5 stars”). However, in the eyes of human rights, what is happening is an inadmissible setback.
Since the middle of 2017, when the Italian government through the interior minister, Marco Minniti, decided to sponsor the interventions of Fayez al Sarraj(leader of the group that controls Tripoli, capital of Libya) in the Mediterranean, the number of arrivals here on the Sicilian coast decreased significantly. This created a false sense of solution to the problem, as the numbers showed a reduction of 70% compared to the previous year. But a few miles away, the tragic and inhumane theater in prisons and concentration camps continued, with the same characters, the same stories, the same sufferings, but now without the possibility of a happy ending.
After all, a year ago we see Italian public money financing a civil war on the other side of the Mediterranean, transvestite of an “international cooperation treaty,” and condemning people (who, after leaving their countries for countless situations such as religious and political persecution, forced marriages, wars, misery, etc.) to remain in one of the corners of today’s world where human rights violations, torture, deaths and other situations that will certainly embarrass our grandchildren.
When, by a miracle, the precarious ships do not sink, the passengers are being taken back by the Libyan coastguard to the concentration camps and prisons where they’d escaped. The new Libyan vessels patrol not only their waters, but they have created a “zone of influence” on the high seas, beyond its territorial waters, which violates international legality, making it difficult to approach the few NGOs that continue to operate. Even so they remain there, with the fear that each rescue may be the last, or that Italian and European authorities prevent them from disembarking or even blocking their actions. (the Italian court accused the ship’s commanders of the Open Arms NGO of “Criminal Association” by saving 218 lives and not returning people rescued in international waters to the Libyan Coast Guard – Remember the case HERE).
Therefore fewer people are getting here. However, the numbers are hinding a sad reality: less people land on Europe because more people are dying in the sea or in Libya. From the political-social point of view, many fundamental questions remain unanswered: Who should accommodate this demographic contingent? How should this welcome have to be done? What is Europe’s role, as a bloc, in the division of debts? What are the best integration options? Who pays the bill? However, at sea, the answers are clear and the result of this equation is increasingly simple: every day thousands of people throw themselves in the sea ready to die rather than return to the Libyan hell. For these refugees and immigrants, the flirtation between the Italian government and Libyan groups has been much more than a death sentence; but a condemnation of the “Life Sentence”.