By Pip Lawton
Scenes of the infamous Slave Trade haunt Africans. Boats with rotting sides and water-logged engines hauling human cargo packed and sometimes locked three deep in the hollows, all that is missing are the chains and shackles. For the human cargo the only possession is a dream, a dream of a better life in a country where they believe there exists value to a life.
The drowning of 1750 people since the start of this year is our greatest human tragedy of the 21st century. These people are in addition to the 3419 who drowned last year and the 27,000 that we know of, who have drowned since the start of the century trying to escape the hell of grinding poverty and war in Africa and the Arabian States.
They symbolize a level of desperation so deep that people will risk ending their lives rather than live the one they have. Filthy politics has created this tragedy. We are witnessing the tail end of the 20th century’s orgy of exploitation and the deliberate delaying of Africa’s industrialization.
For the young man from Ghana who drowned 3 weeks ago, his inheritance of Ghanaian independence’ from 1957 was to live on less than $2 a day. For the Somalian mother who drowned, filthy politics of imperial occupation have gutted, raped and starved her nation for the last 25 years for a piece of a strategic oil pie and for the Eritrean husband who drowned, what else was there left to fight off except the sea. Filthy politics has created this tragedy and it looks like filthy politics is about to capitalize on it. The human trafficking in the Med is reaching another level of immorality. And with it are those either directly or indirectly engineering the Mediterranean disasters or simply prepared to capitalize on them for a political agenda.
Before NATO’s destruction, Libya was the economic mecca for East, West, North Africa and the Arabian states. Today it is only the gateway for illegal immigration to Europe. Tens of thousands still make the journey here on foot from as far away as Somalia, a journey of some 5,000 km across the Sahara.
Libya’s Coast Guard operate a search and rescue mission as well as illegal immigration control. With resources from the government of the now ‘democratic’ and Gadhaffi-less failed state, now limited, their job is difficult. Coupled with this is the increasing risk to their own lives. The Libyan Coast Guard operating south of Tripoli are in rebel held territory. Within this increasingly lawless territory, human smuggling is now big business commanding at least $1,000 for a one way ticket across the Med. The Coast Guard officials are their only obstacle. The Coast Guard are now being shot at out at sea and hunted down back on shore.
“We carry on working because otherwise these people will die. You have to sacrifice yourself to save these people. Today we’ve recovered 2 dead bodies from the capsized boat. There are kids, there are women. There are old people. Sometimes you are brought to tears as you are working. One time we had someone give birth on the boat. We rescued them and a newborn baby was with us. Once when rescuing people at night, one person died in front of me and I couldn’t save him. There were 108 people who needed rescuing and there were only 4 of us in the team. It was impossible to rescue all 108 people! he drowned in front of me and I could not reach him! People just drowning, it’s horrific!.”
It has since been announced that the Libyan Coast Guard will only be responding to May-Day requests, search and rescue will no longer be a standard procedure. (Source: VICE NEWS)
The Coast Guards’ duty is over once immigrants are handed over to the authorities on shore. The authorities are now under the authority of rebel groups in war torn and NATO destroyed Libya. Those rescued out at sea are then taken to immigration detention centers. Here they are held with thousands of other people arrested for being illegal immigrants in Libya. These detention centers are notorious. Zawiyah Detention Centre is nothing more than a prison, a medieval prison where men are packed 45 to small room, 200 people share 1 toilet and medical facilities do not exist. Reports of abuse and torture for entertainment of bored prison officials abound, stories of young children and women humiliated and abused. Here, access to UNHCR or any legal representation is a daydream in a cesspit where people are left to rot for indefinite periods of months or years.
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