By Sam Ord
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Fortress Europe’s borders kill migrants again

Relatives and loved ones of up to 300 migrants have reported they are missing after three boats crossing from Senegal haven't been heard from
Issue 2863
Refugees Greece EU migrants

Three boats carrying up to 60 migrants have gone missing (Picture: Wikimedia Commons)

At least 300 people, who were desperately trying to get to the Spanish state’s Canary Islands on three small boats, were reported missing on Monday.  It’s a murderous near ­repetition of the drowning of some 600 migrants in the Mediterranean in June.   

Two boats carrying around 60 people had been missing for 16 days—as Socialist Worker went to press on Tuesday—since they left Senegal to try to reach Spain. 

A third boat, carrying 200, has not been heard from since 27 June. All three boats left Kafountine in the south of Senegal, 1,057 miles from Tenerife, Canary Islands. 

Racist border controls and severely limited safe refugee routes force thousands of migrants to make the ­perilous journey. 

Small boats cannot handle powerful Atlantic currents causing 559 people to die during the trip last year and 1,126 to die in 2021.

These deaths are no ­accident. To force refugees to make these journeys is a political choice by Europe’s ruling class. People fleeing for safety has become a death sentence for many, and the seas west of Africa become a graveyard just like the Mediterranean and English Channel.

Spain has a brutal border regime. As refugees die off the state’s coast, they reinforce land border controls at the Spanish enclave of Melilla, that borders Morocco. On 24 June 2022 Moroccan ­security forces, in alliance with the Spanish National Police and the Civil Guard, beat to death 37 migrants who had managed to break through to Melilla.

Melilla and Ceuta, Spain’s other North African enclave, have the European Union’s only land borders on the African continent. 

Spain and Morocco seal the border with ten-metre iron fences, barbed wire, ­watchtowers and brutal repression. This forces those wanting to flee to Europe to rely on crossing the sea. However, with a European Union crackdown on migration along Morocco’s north coast, in 2018, the Canary Islands have become more desirable. 

This is also because Spain, like many other European countries, has previously refused docking rights to vessels carrying refugees, and once they arrive, the migrants are subjected to awful treatment. 

But faced with increasing hardship, extreme weather events such as drought, and depleting fishing catches, many have no choice but to make the nearly two week journey to the Canary Islands.

And with safe, legal routes severely limited and closed for a majority and visa requirements far too hard to acquire, smuggling groups can exploit desperate people.

Refugee drownings at the hands of brutal European border controls have become far too familiar. 

A potential of over 300 deaths should be headline news—it certainly would be if they were rich or European—but readers will struggle to find this horrific story elsewhere, in ­mainstream newspapers.

Migration should be a right for all, and safe routes should be freely available, regardless of race, religion or reason for leaving.  But Fortress Europe is happy to let thousands die to vilify migrants as the enemy, responsible for low wages and austerity ­measures, rather than the criminal ruling class.

Greek coastguard could have prevented refugee drownings

The drowning of some 600 migrants off the coast of Greece in June “was a preventable tragedy”, according to the Washington Post newspaper following a new investigation.

The Greek coast guard continues to defend its decision not to assist the vessel initially, claiming the boat had rejected help.  This point is made repetitively in the coast guard’s official statement and backed up by private shipping vessels that met the boat. 

But despite this, the coast guard did not consider why the migrants may resist help and had an obligation to intervene regardless.  People smugglers would have resisted intervention to protect themselves, and refugee distress response organisation, Alarm Phone, said migrants are afraid of Greek authorities. 

“People on the move know about the horrible and systematic pushback practices carried out by the Greek authorities, practices that are sanctioned by the EU,” they said.

The coast guard also says that earlier rescue attempts weren’t necessary as the boat was moving at “a steady course and speed”. 

They say the first mention of a malfunctioning engine came only 24 minutes before the capsizing report. 

But the new evidence shows that despite the patrol boat’s log that “the condition of the fishing boat was good” at 10.50 pm, the boat had been struggling for quite a while.

The Washington Post maps an “erratic course” with dramatic speed fluctuations, down to just 0.5mph. And despite news reports claiming the boat was drifting for over 6 hours, it was actually travelling under its own propulsion but very slowly until the final moments.

Yet despite the death toll, the Greek coast guard says it fulfilled all its tame obligations by locating the ship, enlisting merchant vessels and sending its own patrol boat. But legal and rescue experts say that a full-scale rescue operation should have begun based on the given information.

“You are not responsible for saving every life,” said Efthymios Papastavridis, an international maritime law researcher at Oxford University. “But you have to discharge all your best efforts.”

Despite their attempts to cover up their responsibility, the Greek coast guard and Fortress Europe are stained in blood.

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