By Agenzia Habeshia
Ten years ago, the Lampedusa tragedy: 368 young lives cut short a few hundred meters from the beach, when freedom and a better future seemed just a step away.
CommemorAction in Oujda. 2020. Photo: Alarm Phone
The 10th anniversary of this tragedy comes in the very climate and practice that erects yet another barrier of death in the faces of thousands of other refugees and migrants, like those boys swept away in that gray dawn of October 3, 2013. We do not know whether members of this government and this majority, or, more generally, whether other key players in the politics of recent years, intend to promote or even participate in ceremonies and events in memory of what happened. But if it is true, as it is, that the best way to honor the dead is to save the living and respect their freedom and dignity, then it will not make sense to share the moments of recollection and reflection, which the date of October 3 calls for, with those who have been building walls and destroying bridges for years, ignoring the cry for help that is rising from all over the South. If they, too, want to “remember Lampedusa,” let them do it alone. Let them stand alone. For in these ten years they have overthrown, destroyed, or distorted that great afflatus of solidarity and human pity aroused by the massacre in the consciences of millions of people around the world.
What, in fact, remains of the “spirit” and commitments of that time? Nothing. It has regressed to a cynicism and indifference even worse than the climate before that terrible October 3. And, even, in spite of the investigations made by the judiciary, it has still not been possible to understand how it was possible that 368 people met their deaths just 800 meters from Lampedusa, less than two kilometers from a port crammed with fast and well-equipped military units capable of arriving on the scene within minutes.
The magnitude of the tragedy drew attention, with the enormous force of 368 lives lost, to two points in particular: the humanitarian catastrophe of millions of refugees seeking salvation across the Mediterranean Sea; the drama of Eritrea, enslaved by the dictatorship of Isaias Afewerki, because all those dead were Eritreans.
The first “point” was answered with Mare Nostrum, the mandate to the Italian Navy to patrol the Mediterranean up to the edge of Libyan territorial waters, to render aid to boats of migrants in distress and to prevent and avoid other massacres like the one in Lampedusa. That operation was a boast for our Navy, with thousands of lives saved. Ten years later, not only is there nothing left of it, but it almost seems that much of the political milieu considers it a waste or even an aid given to traffickers.
The fact remains that exactly twelve months later, in November 2014, Mare Nostrum was “canceled,” multiplying – just as the Navy had predicted – the shipwrecks and casualties, including the immense tragedy of April 15, 2015, with some 800 victims, the highest death toll ever recorded in the Mediterranean in a shipwreck. And, in place of that salvation operation, regulations, and restrictions have gradually been introduced that not even the escalation of victims has been able to stop, even to the point of outsourcing the borders of Fortress Europe further and further south, to Africa and the Middle East, through a whole series of international treaties, to block refugees in the middle of the Sahara, “out of the spotlight,” before they can even get to embark on the southern shore of the Mediterranean.
This is what treaties such as the Khartoum Process (a photocopy of the previous Rabat Process), the Malta Accords, the treaty with Turkey, the rejection pact with Sudan, the blackmail to Afghanistan (forced to “take back” 80,000 refugees), the memorandum signed with Libya in February 2017 and the latest measures of this government have done and are doing. Not to mention the criminalization of NGOs, to whom we owe about 40 percent of the thousands of lives saved, but who have been forced to suspend their activities, even going so far as to pressure Panama to revoke the sailing flag of the Aquarius. Today we are seeing rescued ships forced to sail innumerable miles in search of assigned ports far from the places of intervention. The closest and safest port under international maritime law is a dead letter now. Massacres have been going on for the past decade like nothing, cynicism has supplanted Humanitarianism.
With the Eritrean refugees, the second “point” is how we have gone from solidarity to derision or even contempt, to the point of calling them – in the words of influential members of the current governing majority – “vacationing refugees” or “migrants to make a good life,” in order to deny the reality of the dictatorship in Asmara. It is a process that began immediately, already in the aftermath of the tragedy, when at the funeral ceremony for the victims, in Agrigento, the government invited the Eritrean ambassador to Rome, the man who represents and is the voice in Italy of the very regime that forced those 368 young people to flee the country. It could have seemed like a “gaffe.” Instead, it turned out to be the beginning of a path of gradual rapprochement and re-evaluation of Isaias Afewerki, the dictator who enslaved his people, bringing them out of international isolation, associating them with the Khartoum Process and other agreements, sending them hundreds of millions of euros in funding, electing them de facto anti-immigration gendarme on behalf of Italy and Europe.
Both regarding migrants in general and Eritrea, then, ten years after the tragedy of that October 3, 2013, the bitter taste of betrayal remains.
- Betrayed memory and respect for the 368 young victims and all their family members and friends.
- Betrayed are the thousands of young people who by their very flight denounce the fierce, terrible reality of the regime in Asmara, which remains a dictatorship even after peace was signed with Ethiopia over the very long border war that began in 1998.
- Betrayed is the cry of pain that rises from Africa and the Middle East to Italy and Europe from an entire people of migrants forced to leave their land: a flight for life that often stems from situations created by the politics and economic and geostrategic interests of the very states of the Global North that are now raising barriers. Betrayed, this cry of pain, at the very moment when one pretends not to see an obvious reality:
That’s it: wherever we want to remember the Lampedusa tragedy these days, on the island itself or anywhere else, it will be meaningless to do so unless we want to turn this sad anniversary into a starting point to radically change the policy conducted over the past five years toward migrants and refugees. The “last of the earth.”
Article published in Echoes#8 – Struggles for Freedom of Movement