Drownings in the Mediterranean now account for 75% of all illegal immigrant deaths worldwide, the waterways filled with a constant stream of people from Africa and the Middle East fleeing their culture in the hope of re-establishing it again on the European shore. In 2014 the number topped 200,000, twenty times greater than number than four years before. The numbers for 2015 are on track to equal 2014.
The overwhelming majority now come from Syria, which is largely destroyed. “The civil war, which began in 2011, has left over 220,000 dead so far. Over half the 22 million people of Syria have fled their homes since 2011. … Even many Assad supporters, living in the parts of the country largely untouched by the war, are fleeing.”
Under this enormous weight, the normal mechanisms of relief and compassion are breaking down. “Foreign donors are spending over $8 billion a year to keep these refugees outside Syria alive. Turkey and Lebanon have taken most of the refugees and Turkey is spending nearly $4 billion a year to support their portion.” As in wars past, people smugglers are profiting from the desperation and shipping boatloads packed like sardines to Europe, many of whom drown at sea. The Mediterranean, says Time, is becoming a “mass grave”.
Italy is constantly pulling people out of the water or from foundering vessels, dumped by people smugglers who are sure the Europeans will rescue them. Over 13,500 have been rescued in the last 7 days. Italian PM Matteo Renzi, whose coastguard is overstretched, has denounced the tide as “21st Century slavery” and “singled out Libya as the key problem, saying it was the starting point for about 90% of the migrants reaching Italy by sea.” There is a sense of hopelessness in the task, because the more rescued, the more come. “Some Italian politicians had called for a naval blockade but Mr Renzi said this would only help the smugglers as there would be more ships to rescue migrants.”
Blockades only attract refugee boats. The Telegraph says the smugglers actually make for the European navy and then sink the ship when close enough. They know the Europeans have orders to save them.
Trafficking gangs dispatching migrants on perilous journeys across the Mediterranean are tipping off Italian officials in advance so that their boats can be picked up by coastguard and naval vessels.
The gangs have become so confident that their boats will be picked up that they even reduce the amount of fuel each vessel has before it sets out from north Africa, a former manager in the UK Immigration Service has revealed.
The disclosure from Graham Leese, who was also a special advisor to Frontex, the European Union’s border control force, will add to concerns that “search and rescue” operations in the Mediterranean are encouraging traffickers by making their deadly trade easier. …
The EU-funded Operation Mare Nostrum was launched in October 2013, in response to a previous tragedy in which 350 migrants drowned within sight of the Italian island of Lampedusa. It rescued more than 100,000 refugees from the sea, but was discontinued last September amid concerns about the £6m-a-month cost, and fears that it was simply encouraging illegal immigration into Europe. The replacement service, Operation Triton, has fewer vessels and limits itself to European territorial waters rather than ranging out to near the Libyan coast.
Efforts by the Italians to stay away are falling to a new tactic by people-smugglers who are locking hundreds down below decks, thus guaranteeing gigantic death tolls if naval units are not around to effect a rescue. Some 950 people are believed to have drowned in the latest sinking where “hundreds of terrified migrants including women and children drowned ‘like rats in a cage’ on a smuggler boat because they were locked in the hold .”
That is breaking down the resistance The EU now “faces renewed pressure” to act, according to the BBC. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon made an appeal to “world governments” to take in more people rather than watch them drown following the latest sinking. The people smugglers understand that the international organizations are like trained monkeys who will pull the lever on cue until they collapse from exhaustion.
The playwright Anders Lustgarten author of the play Lampedusa argues in the Guardian that Europe is compelled by “the raw reciprocal necessity of human beings who have nothing but each other” to keep the door open. “Let’s not be cowards and pretend the migrants will stop coming. Because they won’t. This will never stop … There are half a million people in Libya waiting to make the crossing. How many more deaths can we stomach?”
Maybe more than he can imagine. Lustgarten is apparently unacquainted with certain kinds of human beings. With unemployment running at 23.7 % in Spain and 26.0 % in Greece — and youth unemployment at near 60 percent in both countries — lower income Europeans might start to act like the South Africans and engage in xenophobic riots. After all, they have done it before. Desperation can eventually trump empathy, as events in South Africa show.
In the past 48 hours at least five immigrants have been killed in the latest in a string of xenophobic attacks in Durban, South Africa. Most of the pictures are too graphic to show.
In one video a group of migrants are rounded up and burnt alive – including a child. In another a man is dragged on the streets naked and then stoned.
Some migrants are too scared to go out, and others have armed themselves trying to protect their livelihoods.
Europeans can be brutal if you press them hard enough. We’re just not there yet. But the spate of refugees across the Mediterranean is going to strain the wellsprings of compassion because Libya is getting set to destroy whatever’s left of that war-torn country. “UN-brokered peace talks between representatives of Libya’s rival parliaments are deadlocked, and the various factions are talking war, not peace as violence continues to tear the country apart.” In shattered Syria, Assad after a brief period of recovery, is starting to lose ground again — to ISIS. With such a pitiless cast of combatants, only fresh outflows can be expected.
BEIRUT/AMMAN (Reuters) – In the course of a week, several setbacks for President Bashar al-Assad have provided fresh reminders of the strains facing the Syrian army and its allies in the four-year-long struggle for Syria.
In the southwest at the border with Jordan, the capture of a crossing by rebels suggests new resolve among their Arab backers who want to see Assad gone and to check the growth of Iranian influence across the Middle East.
In the northwest, near the border with Turkey, the capture of an entire city by Islamist groups including al Qaeda’s Syrian wing has triggered claims in Damascus that Ankara has boosted its support for the insurgency.
The Islamic State group, the single most powerful insurgent force in Syria, has meanwhile started to threaten parts of the Syrian state still run by Assad, creeping westwards out of its northern and eastern strongholds. This week it massacred 45 people in a village in a government-held area near Hama city.
Iran is straining under the weight of two major proxy wars: one in Syria and the other in Yemen, to which it has dispatched a convoy of some nine ships, probably containing arms, to rev up the conflict in that country. “Officials fear the move could lead to a showdown with the U.S. or other members of a Saudi-led coalition, which is enforcing a naval blockade of Yemen and is conducting its fourth week of airstrikes against the Houthis.”
Foreign Policy believes both sides are feeling the strain. “Syrian regime forces have been on the back foot recently … However, all is not going well for Iran in Syria. Tehran faces a classic case of mission creep: It is being forced to commit ever-greater military and financial resources in Syria, falling deeper into the Syrian quagmire with no clear exit strategy.”
Maybe something will give. Whichever side loses, the resulting ethnic cleansing is bound to be identically ferocious. A victory for either side would demonstrate to “world governments” what “humanity” is capable of. In the final crash, the ones most able to escape will be the strongest. Foreign Policy says that Italy isn’t even bothering to check the bona fides of the tide of young, military age men now flowing onto their shores. “I know that the Dutch authorities are already looking into various cases of migrants from Syria who might actually be wanted for suspected war crimes,” says one source.
Hussam, like all the other 440 migrants on his boat, had no intention of staying in Italy after reaching shore. He just walked out of the Italian asylum center, traveling north through Milan and then to the French city of Nice before eventually arriving in Germany. Only then did he go to the authorities and register as a refugee. “But clearly, if it was so easy for me, it would have been equally easy for any terrorist,” he said.
Will Europe keep taking in the refugees with open arms? On the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, Father Mimmo Zambito expressed the hope that it would. Unfortunately he admitted while passing a refugee grave that there was only one thing he was certain of. The cemetery would always stay open.
Recently purchased by readers:
Building the H Bomb, A Personal History [Kindle Edition]
Parasite Rex, Inside the Bizarre World of Nature’s Most Dangerous Creatures [Kindle Edition]
The Vikings [Kindle Edition]
Possibly worth buying:
The Three Languages of Politics [Kindle Edition]
The War That Forged a Nation, Why the Civil War Still Matters
Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security
Is the American Century Over?, Joseph Nye
The Assassins, Bernard Lewis. A comprehensive, readable, and authoritative account of history’s first terrorists.
Red Notice, A real-life political thriller about an American financier in the Wild East of Russia, the murder of his principled young tax attorney, and his dangerous mission to expose the Kremlin’s corruption.
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The War of the Words for $3.99, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
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