Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Africans left to starve to death adrift in the sea as Europe looks on

Refugees from Libya reach Lampedusa
Refugees from Libya reach Lampedusa. A warship failed to rescue a boat in trouble – leaving 61 people on board to die. Photograph: Francesco Malavolta/EPA ( from The Guardian)

There are occasions when a media story will hit you in the solar plexus leaving you angry and speechless in equal measure. Monday the 9th May was one such day. The Guardian front page was dominated by a story that simply defies belief, a saga that provides an insight into the reality of humanitarianism, racism and callous indifference. African migrants being left to die is a story that upon reading transported me instantly to the period of transatlantic slavery.
In a tale that reflects the 18th century horror of the dreaded middle passage, 72 African migrants, escaping the turmoil of Tripoli on a small boat and seeking safety and security were left to die adrift on the Mediterranean Sea.
This sickening tragedy took place as NATO ships, planes and helicopters flew overheard and did nothing to save the men, women and children who were dying on a daily basis right in front of their eyes.
They were not subject to a rescue effort. NATO vessels from both Italy and France made contact with the migrants and choose to do nothing.
I believe that those European nations, who were fully aware of the tragedy unfolding, consciously decided to let these Africans die a miserable death of starvation and dehydration. For 16 days these Africans drifted in dangerous seas. Of the 72 who set out to find a new life only 11 survived. At one point seeing helicopters approaching they held up aloft starving babies in a heart rendering plea for help.
European Union government’s contempt for Africans is both visceral and toxic. Racism reduces human beings to miserable states of existence where morality and consciousness are absent, replaced by toxic irrational hatred and callous disregard. Human beings are fully degraded by racism and the foul septic contagion of this evergreen hatred has plagued the world, costing billions of lives and reducing the perpetrators to a psychological strait- jacket of hate and violence.
Slavery, Nazism, Colonialism and now neo liberalism provides ample historical examples of the wretched reality of mans inhumanity to man.
Europe champions the human rights of those in North Africa and the Middle East: however Europe refuses to accept the vast majority of African refugees. This hypocrisy is demonstrated by the fact that Egypt and Tunisia, are currently dealing with over 650, 000 refugees who have fled the conflicts.
I am instantly reminded of the case of the notorious slave ship the Zong. The Zong massacre occurred on a slave ship owned by a Liverpool slave trading firm carrying enslaved Africans to Jamaica. Grossly overcrowded and lost at sea the Captain decided to throw overboard 122 chained Africans into the sea. He later tried to claim insurance for his lost cargo. The case became a cause celebre after a free African anti slavery campaigner Olaudah Equiano raised the issue into a national scandal.
Some of the most vicious forms of racism are historically economic and state sponsored. Some of the most notorious examples of racism can be found during the period of transatlantic slavery. The image of the African slave manacled below the deck of a rotten and festering slave ship during the middle passage remains one of the most enduring images in world history.
That reality has now returned with the scandal that has seen hundreds of Africans migrants sailing from North African ports seeking entry in to Europe die on the high seas.
International law requires that all ships or planes answer distress calls and ensure an emergency response. The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR spokesperson speaking to the Guardian stated,
"The Mediterranean cannot become the wild west," said spokeswoman Laura Boldrini. "Those who do not rescue people at sea cannot remain unpunished."
Italy and France have colluded with racism to commit an act of gross barbarity and inhumanity. Both were aware of the plight of these Africans and both Presidents Sarkozy and Berlusconi who have sanctioned state racism on an unprecedented scale should be tried in court along with those NATO officers who refused to rescue these desperate migrants.
Whilst Sarkozy is being challenged by the racist Le Front Nationale and  Berlusconi’s Italian coalition partner is the equally racist Lega Nord both have willingly condoned racism in their respective countries.
France recently illegally deported French Roma to Romania drawing critisism from Viviane Reding, the European commissioner for justice, comparing the French deportations to France's treatment of Jews in the second world war. Then there was the ridiculous banning of the veil and the football quotas against African players. Whilst Berlusconi made a notorious deal with Gaddafi in 2009 to deport all Libyan refugees back to the man he now calls a tyrant. His coalition partner the leader of Lega Nord Umberto Boss is a well known virulent racist.
This incident is an example of what happens when Presidential racism infects a nation; a tacit green light is given to behave in a racist way. The example is set at the top and sets the tone for the rest of Government, police officers and the military. Both nations should hang their heads in shame at this incident. I doubt anyone will be brought to account or face sanction.
The fact is that African lives, in the eyes of some European Governments, are worth nothing. This sad fact can be illustrated by the sobering reality that if a boat load of animals were spotted in similar circumstances they would have been rescued of that we can be sure. We are no longer called niggers nor are we slaves: we are however subject to a degree of callous inhumane indifference that relegates our lives as worth less than animals.
Stop press.
The Council of Europe, has called for an inquiry into the deaths, claiming an apparent failure of military units to rescue them marked a "dark day" for the continent.
Mevlüt Çavusoglu, president of the council's parliamentary assembly, demanded an "immediate and comprehensive inquiry" into the fate of the Africans.
"If this grave accusation is true – that, despite the alarm being raised, and despite the fact that this boat, fleeing Libya, had been located by armed forces operating in the Mediterranean, no attempt was made to rescue the 72 passengers aboard, then it is a dark day for Europe as a whole"

Çavusoglu declared.
"I call for an immediate and comprehensive inquiry into the circumstances of the deaths of the 61 people who perished, including babies, children and women who – one by one – died of starvation and thirst while Europe looked on," he added.

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'The image of the African slave manacled below the deck of a rotten and festering slave ship during the middle passage remains one of the most enduring images in world history.'