Socialist Worker

Boat tragedy exposes the dangerous waters surrounding Fortress Europe

by Raymie Kiernan
Issue No. 2374

Many migrants desperate for a better life try to enter Europe via the Italian island of Lampedusa

Many migrants desperate for a better life try to enter Europe via the Italian island of Lampedusa (Pic: Vito Manzari/flickr)

A boat packed with 500 migrants caught fire and sank half a mile from the Italian island of Lampedusa on Thursday of last week.

The island is halfway between Sicily and Tunisia. 

Only 150 survivors had been rescued four days after the tragedy. More than 200 bodies had been recovered as Socialist Worker went to press. 

The route through southern Italian islands is one of many that migrants use to reach Europe. 

On the same night another boat made it to Lampedusa carrying a similar number of people.

Only four days earlier people smugglers beat 13 migrants to force them overboard off the Sicilian coast. They drowned.

The route has seen an increase in refugees from the Horn of Africa and Syria this year. The number of Syrians making the journey spiked when the US ramped up its threats to bomb the country.

The number of migrants dying as they try to cross the Mediterranean may not always be as dramatic as the events near Lampedusa. But every week it grows.


Around 20,000 such deaths have been recorded in the last two decades. The Italian government declared a national day of mourning last week and president Giorgio Napolitano called the continuing tragedies “slaughters of innocents”.

Europe’s politicians condemn the human cost of the perilous journeys being made—but their racist immigration controls are to blame for these terrible deaths.

The criminalisation of migrants forces people to travel illegally on overcrowded boats and face living with curtailed rights to a decent life.

Despite the Italian president’s words, Italy has a network of detention centres for “irregular” immigrants. Laws allow their detention for up to 18 months. 

Just last month Italian authorities instructed two commercial ships to rescue two groups of migrants in distress off the Libyan coast—and transport them back to Libya. 

One ship captain refused. This resulted in several days standoff between Italy and Malta to allow the migrants to disembark.

Deals made between Arab dictators and European countries to clamp down on the movement of migrants broke down as uprisings overthrew them.

In recent years European politicians have called for measures to tighten the borders of Fortress Europe. 

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