More than 1,000 people have drowned in the Mediterranean in the last week while seeking refuge in Europe. The shocking images have outraged millions of people.
Politicians across the European Union (EU) cry crocodile tears—but their callous immigration policies caused the crisis.
Mohammad, a refugee from Daraya near the Syrian capital Damascus, told Socialist Worker why he had risked his life to make the journey.
“I did it because I had no choice,” he said. “I had to leave my country because of the war.
“In August 2012 the regime massacred more than 700 people in my home town over four days, including my aunt and her husband. I am a doctor. The regime targeted me because I treated civilians.”
The season when the weather is good enough for boats to risk the crossing has just started. And already this year’s deaths count alongside some of the worst maritime disasters in history.
Up to 950 refugees crowded onto an overloaded fishing boat died when it capsized last Saturday. Only 28 people are known to have survived.
More than 400 others died last week. Reports came in of yet another boat sinking on Monday of this week.
Mohammad remembers being packed into a boat with about 220 other people. “It wasn’t built to carry that huge number,” he said.
“If people had tried to move around it would have capsized. We didn’t know if we would die from one moment to the next. All we knew was that no one cared what happened to us.
“Many people didn’t have life jackets. There were men, women and small children.
“Many were sea sick and vomiting as the waves were high.When night fell it was very cold and most people didn’t have the right clothes—just short sleeves and no coats.”
Most refugee boats head for the Italian island of Lampedusa, 70 miles off the north African coast.
Mohammad said, “After about 18 hours at sea we were saved by an Italian ship. We were on that for four days. They said they had to stay at sea until they had rescued 1,200 people. It was very crowded. We had to queue for hours to use the toilet.”
Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi rightly called the deaths part of a “systematic slaughter”. But European politicians are scurrying to avoid any blame for it.
David Cameron says it is a tragedy. But his government has pulled Britain out of even the inadequate rescue missions that the European Union (EU) runs.
Home Office minister James Brokenshire argued on Monday that rescuing people would only encourage more to travel. This idea was originally put forward by Foreign Office minister Lady Anelay, who last year called the rescues an “unintended ‘pull factor’”.
Mohammad was shocked that some British politicians don’t want refugees to be rescued.
He asked, “If it was their family would their opinion be the same? Would you leave people you loved to die in the middle of the sea?”
The people who he paid treated the refugees very badly.
“It took 17 days to get across the desert in Libya before we came to the sea. It was the worst experience in my life. It was during Ramadan. We had only one meal a day. If we were lucky we got a glass of water.
“No one could argue. If someone asked for more food they beat him. I witnessed one of them stab one guy in the thigh with sheep shears.”
But the traffickers are not the reason people travel. “We left a war,” said Mohammad. “People were dying. Are the politicians saying that just because I’m Syrian I don’t deserve life?”
Protest at the EU offices in London
Saturday 25 April, 1pm, 32 Smith Square, London SW1P 3EU
Bigots revel in the slaughter
A poisonous article by Sun columnist Katie Hopkins caused outrage. Under the headline “Rescue boats? I’d use gunships to stop migrants” she wrote, “These migrants are like cockroaches.”
Her words were echoed by a prominent member of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, Daniela Santanche. She called on the Italian navy to “sink all the boats”.
The leader of Italy’s racist Northern League, Matteo Salvini, called for the navy to blockade Libya to stop refugee boats.
In Britain, the descent into racism between the main parties trying to copy Ukip has created an atmosphere where huge numbers of deaths can be shrugged off.
Fortress Europe drives migrants to desperation
The Italian Navy carried out the previous rescue project, Mare Nostrum, which cost the European Union (EU) £6.5 million a week.
It was cancelled last October because other EU countries were no longer prepared to fund it.
Its replacement, Operation Triton, costs a third of this and only operates within 30 miles of the Italian coast.
Britain’s government has refused to take part.
As a gesture the NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres is planning to send its own boat. But it is not as if there are no ships about.
This week Nato and its allies’ Joint Warrior exercise is using more than 50 warships off Scotland.
Triton is coordinated by EU borders agency Frontex. Its operations director Klaus Rosler said the first priority would be ensuring effective border control and monitoring criminal networks in North Africa.
The Italian government suggests outsourcing the patrols of the Mediterranean to North African countries and returning “rescued” migrants to their country of origin.
Desperate refugees have been driven to make the dangerous sea crossing as alternative routes have been closed down.
The Greek government put a fence along its border with Turkey in 2012. Bulgaria did the same last week.
And Spain has almost sealed the border with its own North African enclaves Ceuta and Melilla.
Wars created refugee crisis
The West’s wars force people to leave their homes, then its rulers turn them away.
The United Nation’s refugee agency UNHCR appealed in December to European Union states to provide homes for 130,000 Syrians displaced by the civil war.
In response, Germany pledged to take 30,000, Sweden 2,700, and the other 26 states just 5,438 between them.
Britain is set to take in only 143. Yet it can afford to spend billions on border controls and brutal immigration detention centres.
Ukip’s Nigel Farage argued that the problem in Libya was created by the overthrow of Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Some also blame the revolution in Syria for the deadly civil war there.
Gaddafi was certainly no friend of refugees. He had an agreement with the Western powers to stop them sailing.
People were right to rise up against his dictatorship. The chaos in Libya today was caused not by the revolt but the Western military intervention that hijacked it.