Bringing together researchers, practitioners and policy makers working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland
Mariangela Palladino is lecturer in English at the University of Keele. Her work focuses on contemporary postcolonial literatures; in particular it deals with migrant narratives of the trans-Mediterranean diaspora. She is a member of GRAMNet and honorary research Fellow at the University of Glasgow.
It has been a week since the deadliest shipwreck off Lampedusa’s coast. A week on and we are still counting the dead. 298 the victims, many of which were children. On 3rd October a boat carrying 500 people, mostly from Eritrea, accidentally went on fire in an attempt to attract coastal guards’ attention, and sank. The harrowing images from the rescue operations and the hundreds coffins neatly aligned have circulated across Europe and beyond leaving many astounded, angry, bereft. Such large scale tragedy has inevitably shaken the authorities: Italy announced a day of national mourning for the victims, and the small island of Lampedusa (where politicians don’t even go for national election campaigns) saw in a few days the top officials from both Italy and Europe. On 8th October the President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso, and Enrico Letta, Italy’s Prime Minister, were jeered at their arrival to the island. “Shame”, “Killers”, “these deaths rest on your conscience”, were some of the words addressed to the politicians. Indeed, EU restrictive immigration politics are responsible for such tragedies: bilateral partnerships with North African countries have displaced Europe’s frontiers further south, beyond the sea, making migrants’ journeys even more perilous. This substantial militarization of the Mediterranean area is further enhanced by the deployment of Frontex, European union agency which manages EU southern borders. Such migration policies and practices have resulted ineffective in their aim to curb migration and have instead increased deaths at sea.
Lampedusa’s boat disaster is not the first. Nearly 20,000 people have perished at the doors of Europe in the past 20 years; a disquieting figure. Yet, the international response to this episode has been to perpetrate the discourse of security. In a meeting held in Luxemburg on 7th October EU home office ministers discussed a new migratory strategy for Europe. The outcome of this seemingly promising meeting is in fact to reinforce previous lines of action: this entails an immediate reinvigoration of Frontex’s resources (2 million Euros) as well as financial support for Italy (30 million Euros) to face this situation. Such ad hoc measures, formulated in the aftermath of the tragedy and blessed by crocodile’s tears are neither promising, nor encouraging. Italy’s partnership agreements with Libya still exist, clandestine migration is still criminalized in Italy, and disproportionate amounts of funds will still be poured into Frontex’s pockets to patrol our coasts. Such are the conditions for Lampedusa’s tragedy to happen again. The discourse surrounding the EU ‘migratory strategy’ is to stop the trans-Mediterranean migration tout-court, and this entails side-lining and most often violating human rights in the face of security and territorial (national) integrity.
The Lampedusa boat tragedy has occurred in October, when most Western countries celebrate the Black History Month to commemorate the African Diaspora. The 3rd October events in the Mediterranean uncannily evoke dark pages of African history; as Derek Walcott once wrote about the Middle Passage in the Atlantic: “Where are your monuments, your battles, martyrs? … in that gray vault. The sea. The sea has locked them up. The sea is History”. Today’s martyrs in the Mare Nostrum (our sea, ancient Roman name for the Mediterranean) are a powerful wake up call for us all, yet again faced with history recurring. These boat disasters are also Sangue Nostrum (our blood), as one of the banners displayed on the island had it.
Moroccan-born poet Mohammed Lamsuni in 2005 wrote ‘Delirio Del Mare’ (Sea delirium) a poem about migrants’ fatal journey across these deadly waters. In his evocative and powerful lyric, the Mediterranean becomes “the greedy, folly-eyed sea, vomiting nameless colours”. The nameless colours are the 298 victims of 3rd October; whose coffins were identified by a number in black marker. Lamsuni’s poem uncannily tells of death at sea off the Italian coasts, his lines are frighteningly pertinent today:
“On the rocks of obesity the dream dies
In the world’s most beautiful cuisine hunger meets its death.
In Italy, with its world famous cuisine, dreams are shattered, lives are lost and those hungry for a new life meet death. This most recent boat disaster has shaken consciences, but has it woken up Europe to its responsibilities, to its faults and shortcomings? Lamsuni’s poem tells of ‘No Emergency’; the 3rd October tragedy has become emergency – for now – but it is sadly bound to repeat itself.