The death toll of refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea for Europe continues to climb, with more than 100 people perishing at sea over a three-day period in mid-November. “For European governments or the EU Commission to say they are saddened by this horrendous loss of life is hypocritical at best,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, humanitarian affairs advisor of Doctor Without Borders (MSF).
In 2020 alone, nearly 700 people have died trying to escape from Libya across the Central Mediterranean. In early November, “a 15-year-old Eritrean boy was shot dead after armed men stormed a shelter in Tripoli,” said William Hennequin, the MSF program manager for Libya. “Killings, abductions, extreme violence — including torture to extort money from the captives and their relatives — remain everyday threats. That will keep pushing vulnerable people to cross the sea to escape this abuse in the absence of other safer ways to do so.”
On Wednesday, 11, Frontex, the European Coast Guard and Border Agency, declared its hypocrisy by saying it was “committed to saving lives at sea in close cooperation with all operational actors.” But as MSF explained, “The reality is that they have continually avoided sharing information relating to boats in distress” from rescue ships while sending the Libyan Coast Guard information “so the boats can be intercepted and the people forcibly returned to Libya.”
In August, more than 1,000 refugees were abandoned at sea by the Greek government. “I left Syria for fear of bombing — but when this happened, I wished I’d died under a bomb,” was the shocking statement by Najma al-Khatib in an interview with the New York Times. The 50-year-old Syrian teacher was one of the refugees abandoned on the high seas by the Greek government.
The humanitarian crisis is the responsibility of European states and their xenophobia, which forces immigrants into precarious jobs and kills refugees at the borders. Refugees and immigrants, who are forced to live under horrible conditions in the midst of a pandemic. They are refused even the most minimal sanitary conditions and instead, thousands are forced into unhealthy detention camps, left to poverty and disease. It is the same sort of anti-immigrant policies we see from many bourgeois governments — such as from Trump in the United States with refugees from Central America.
Against capitalism’s xenophobic attacks, we raise the need for unity of the world working class to fight against the borders imposed by this system that allows and encourages atrocities like these.
First published in Portuguese on November 14 in Esquerda Diario.
Translated by Scott Cooper