DAY 252: The summary

July 14th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

This is the promised Part 2 (or whatever) of my accounts of life, death, and the actions of governments in the Mediterranean over the last month or so. It’s very much abbreviated, and I urge you to keep following the news as it unfolds; the pages and tweets of SOS-Mediterranee and MSF are a good place to start. We have on one side the rulers, the makers of camps and barbed wire, the culture of detention, sending back, and separating families; on the other side the culture of hospitality and welcome. It’s looking like an increasingly long haul; but I urge you to believe with me that the future of Europe,whatever it is, lies with the culture of the rainbow.

First, a report from Judith Sunderland of Human Rights Watch.  They (HRW) recently issued an effective statement against leaving people to drown: but she expresses a personal view forcefully. Note the figures: 200 drowned in three days, 1,000 this year.

Migrants are seen onboard the charity ship Lifeline at Boiler Wharf in Senglea, in Valletta's Grand Harbour, Malta June 27, 2018.
Migrants are seen onboard the charity ship Lifeline at Boiler Wharf in Senglea, in Valletta’s Grand Harbour, Malta June 27, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

As an American living in Italy, I feel almost choked by despair. The country of my parents ripped young children from their parents and put them in cages. The country of my children is condemning people to drown in the Mediterranean.

Over 200 people have drowned or gone missing off the Libyan coast in the last three days, including young babies, bringing the death toll so far this year to over 1,000.

The new Italian government closed its ports to rescue boats in June. After years of laudable efforts to save lives in the Central Mediterranean, the Italian state-run Maritime Rescue Coordination Center is denying any further responsibility, insisting Libyan coast guard forces are in charge or that the countries where rescue ships are registered should take responsibility.

Migrants and refugees are already exploited by unscrupulous smugglers who pack them into unseaworthy vessels. Confusion, uncertainty, and delays by the European Union contribute to loss of life at sea.

In a devastating chain reaction, Malta – which is host to many asylum seekers, but studiously avoids responsibility for rescues and disembarkation – is aping Italy’s hardline approach. After 200 people floated adrift at sea on the Mission Lifeline rescue boat for five days, Malta finally allowed survivors to disembark– only to place the captain under investigation.

Malta has since also refused the rescue group Proactiva’s request to refuel, and is blocking another rescue organization, Sea-Watch, from leaving port.

At a migration summit last week, EU leaders agreed on little except to further empower Libyan coast guard forces to intercept boats in international waters and tell NGO rescue boats not to intervene. Never mind that everyone taken back to Libya is locked up in horrific prisons where they face filthy conditions and risk torture, sexual violence, forced labor, and extortion.

I want my three sons to be proud of their two countries. I tell them about the outrage across America over the caging of children that forced the Trump administration to change its policy. I talk about the compassionate European volunteers trying to save lives at sea.

I hope to tell them soon that European leaders have pledged to support European rescue operations at sea and share responsibility for disembarking rescued people on European soil, and then to sort out humanely – on dry land – who needs protection and who may be safely returned home.

Next, the International Federation of the Red Cross has denounced the ”criminalisation of compassion’; or what in France is called the ‘crime of solidarity’: offering hospitality to strangers, or rescuing them:

And third, as I’ve again mentioned elsewhere, the pope has jumped on the bandwagon, using the terms ‘sterile hypocrisy’ to attack the European governments; and invoking the Good Samaritan who notoriously rescued a bloke who probably had no papers, and even paid for his hotel bill. What more should I say? As Paul says (Romans 8.31 I think) What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? [Well, we know who,...]

In the meanwhile. we need to remember the men,women and children who keep on drowning… I was going to give you a rendering of Shakspeares ‘Full Fathom Fove’; but I prefer Bessie Smith’s Back Water Blues; even if no one drowns for sure, Bessie makes it clear that the ones who are getting a hard time are the poor.

DAY 251: Live for ever?

July 11th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

The other day, at one of those Catholic revival meetings in South Sudan which she’s addicted to attending, my sister was asked if she wanted to live for ever. (So were the rest of the congregation; understandably they preferred the option of cutting short their stay in this vale of tears ASAP.) Me, while i can see  some attractive points in life on earth as opposed to life as a ghost, or as a zombie, or any of the other available alternatives – say watching the arrival of the spring, or listening to Lebanese pop music – things on this particular planet do seem to be going a bit out of control to the point where I can’t see much point in hanging around to wait for History to get its act together and let the toiling masses finally grab the cup of plenty which is due to them and declarerevolution ‘It’s coming home!’ I’ve been waiting for sixty-six years, and things have been getting steadily worse – I know about gay marriage and the Convention on the Rights of the Child and that, but having seen the invasion of Iraq, the war in Syria, the rise of Daesh, and now the election of a racist misogynist President who then goes on to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – I’m about ready to hand on the torch to my friends in their 20s and 30s to whom I can only wish good luck. I suppose that, like Hamlet, I might be put off by the prospect of visiting that undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller returns, but frankly I don’t see that it would be much worse. Hand me a bare bodkin, I’ll make my quietus.

These thoughts have been sharpened, and my few remaining friends have been noticing my obsession, by the completely unacceptable actions of the European Union. Never a reliable agent of progress at the best of times, whatever you may say about the role of Defrenne v. Sabena in advancing equal rights, or about the Social Chapter which the Tories opted out of and Labour opted into, or… it has most recently been rushed into a decision which effectively endorses the position of the fascist Italian government on humanitarian rescue at sea.

As MSF has said:

 London/Amsterdam: European governments must come to their senses and end policies which trap extremely vulnerable people in Libya or leave them to die at sea, said the medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) following the conclusions of yesterday’s talks at the EU summit.
Last week was the deadliest so far this year on the Mediterranean, as at least 220 people drowned. These were avoidable tragedies. European Governments have blocked non-governmental search and rescue operations, while turning over responsibility for rescues to the Libyan coastguard.European governments are financing, training and equipping the Libyan coastguard to intercept boats in distress and return them to Libya, where they are held in inhumane conditions. In an unprecedented development some 2,000 people were returned to Libya over the course of last weekend. Upon arrival they were sent to arbitrary detention, with no due legal process.

The same European governments that were just a few months ago strongly condemning reports of slave markets in Libya, seem today to have no hesitation in escalating policies that will increase the suffering of people trapped there. People whose only ‘crime’ is that they flee conflict, violence or poverty.

“EU member states are abdicating their responsibilities to save lives and deliberately condemning vulnerable people to be trapped in Libya, or die at sea” said Karline Kleijer, MSF head of emergencies “They do this fully aware of the extreme violence and abuses that refugees and migrants suffer in Libya.”

“MSF urges European governments to show some basic decency and remember that we are talking about human lives and human suffering. They can start by committing to search and rescue and facilitate swift disembarkation in places of safety, this does not mean Libya”.

People trapped in Libyan detention centres are largely without any assistance, as access for international humanitarian organisations including MSF and the UN is severely limited. This affects the ability to monitor and provide protection, however over the last month MSF has conducted over 3,300 medical consultations in four detention centres. Medical teams found that the main health issues are linked to poor living conditions, including overcrowding, and lack of sufficient water or sanitation.

Meanwhile despite the overwhelming need for search and rescue, an orchestrated campaign against non-governmental search and rescue operations is reaching breaking point. Independent search and rescue missions are increasingly obstructed from carrying out rescues in international waters and are denied access to local ports. This weekend the Aquarius was one of the only three dedicated search and rescue vessels in the Central Mediterranean.

“Saving lives at sea is not a crime” continued Kleijer. “Yet, the message from European governments is loud and clear: humanitarian assistance is not welcome. Scapegoating NGOs is a tactic to distract from the real issues: lack of solidarity or vision in the EU, and a broken asylum system. These actions block and obstruct us from doing the work EU governments are failing to do, all the while de-humanising people in need. Any deaths caused by this are now at their hands.”

DAY 250 – Relativity

July 4th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

But what are  my pain, woes and griefs (I exclaimed) compared with those of countless others, smuggled, trafficked, beaten by the police of this or that increasingly Fascist country? Who will burn their children alive, or shoot their paramedics, simply because they belong to an inferior race? Or confine them in concentration camps, as seems to be the current plan in Hungary? A friend commented as Italy turned away a boatful of refugees that it made him ashamed to be European. I’d never thought of the reasons to be proud of being European (we have Socrates, Galileo, Michelangelo, Beethoven, and all that,  - or even Newton – but it doesn’t have anything to do with treatment of refugees who were very likely being tortured at the same time as the Sistine Chapel was being painted).

No, comrades, we have to be proud, if anything, of being human, an amazing thing when you think of some of the amazing human beings you know – I could go back to David Bowie, or Martin Luther King, or my friends X, Y and Z who are even now fighting fearlessly on behalf of the dispossessed. Think of them, and try not to despair, if you . Look at the lady next to you on the 41 bus; trying to maintain a tolerable relationship with her three-year old son. A driwnedhuman being, if ever I saw one, even if she isn’t an asylum-seeker or an asylum law barrister. Any cook, as Lenin said, should be able to run the country (How did I stray into quotes from Lenin? And what a lot of terrific ones there are! They’re enough to put you in good heart even when you’re at your most despairing.) Look at Dido, who made the dreadful mistake of falling for a man who lured her with his tall tales, and then had no choice but – to be laid in earth…

On Jone 29th MSF (who aren’t given to being sensationalist) summed the situation up as follows:—

London/Amsterdam: “European governments must come to their senses and end policies which trap extremely vulnerable people in Libya or leave them to die at sea, said the medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) following the conclusions of yesterday’s talks at the EU summit.

Last week was the deadliest so far this year on the Mediterranean, as at least 220 people drowned. These were avoidable tragedies. European Governments have blocked non-governmental search and rescue operations, while turning over responsibility for rescues to the Libyan coastguard. European governments are financing, training and equipping the Libyan coastguard

libya

 

`The same European governments that were just a few months ago strongly condemning reports of slave markets in Libya, seem today to have no hesitation in escalating policies that will increase the suffering of people trapped there. People whose only ‘crime’ is that they flee conflict, violence or poverty.

“EU member states are abdicating their responsibilities to save lives and deliberately condemning vulnerable people to be trapped in Libya, or die at sea” said Karline Kleijer, MSF head of emergencies “They do this fully aware of the extreme violence and abuses that refugees and migrants suffer in Libya.”

“MSF urges European governments to show some basic decency and remember that we are talking about human lives and human suffering. They can start by committing to search and rescue and facilitate swift disembarkation in places of safety, this does not mean Libya”.

People trapped in Libyan detention centres are largely without any assistance, as access for international humanitarian organisations including MSF and the UN is severely limited. This affects the ability to monitor and provide protection, however over the last month MSF has conducted over 3,300 medical consultations in four detention centres. Medical teams found that the main health issues are linked to poor living conditions, including overcrowding, and lack of sufficient water or sanitation.

Meanwhile despite the overwhelming need for search and rescue, an orchestrated campaign against non-governmental search and rescue operations is reaching breaking point. Independent search and rescue missions are increasingly obstructed from carrying out rescues in international waters and are denied access to local ports. This weekend the Aquarius was one of the only three dedicated search and rescue vessels in the Central Mediterranean.

“Saving lives at sea is not a crime” continued Kleijer. “Yet, the message from European governments is loud and clear: humanitarian assistance is not welcome. Scapegoating NGOs is a tactic to distract from the real issues: lack of solidarity or vision in the EU, and a broken asylum system. These actions block and obstruct us from doing the work EU governments are failing to do, all the while de-humanising people in need. Any deaths caused by this are now at their hands.”

The heads of governments in Europe seem to be finally falling into two categories: the harshly repressive and the openly racist. There is opposition, but it only comes from grassroots activists, and from organisations like MSF who are committed by their very existence (the Hippocratic oath?) to saving lives. No such oath binds politicians, who willingly consign any number of unknown souls to death by water, or confinement and torture.