Europe doesn’t care about black lives, activists say, as hundreds abandoned at sea

United Nations agencies call for a safe port to be granted to rescue ships

 Migrants among the 350  on board the Sea-Watch 4 civil sea rescue ship, that is waiting for permission to run into a port, on sea between Malta and Italy.  Photograph: Thomas Lohnes/AFP via Getty Images

Migrants among the 350 on board the Sea-Watch 4 civil sea rescue ship, that is waiting for permission to run into a port, on sea between Malta and Italy. Photograph: Thomas Lohnes/AFP via Getty Images

 

Nearly 100 minors and several pregnant women are among hundreds of refugees and migrants asking to be allowed to dock in Europe, after they were rescued in the central Mediterranean over the past nine days.

Some of them were originally found by the Louise Michel, a ship funded by British artist Banksy. It was aided on Saturday by the German charity-run Sea Watch 4, after its crew of 10 people said they were no longer able to move the 30 metre-long boat, which by then had 219 refugees and migrants on board.

Ilina Angelova, a Médecins Sans Frontières humanitarian affairs officer on board Sea Watch 4, said it is now sheltering 353 people, 28 per cent of whom are unaccompanied minors, including almost 30 aged 15 or younger. *

“They have been travelling for several years already on their own, so they’re clearly very vulnerable,” she said.

The majority spent time in Libya’s infamous migrant detention centres, which Pope Francis recently compared to concentration camps.

Crew told The Irish Times that they are concerned about the psychological stress those rescued are under.

“[There are] A lot of mental scars,” Ms Angelova said. She said some of the women had witnessed others being killed or raped, or had babies murdered in front of them.

In a letter written by one of the people on board the Sea Watch 4, seen by The Irish Times, a Cameroonian called Souleman said he had undergone more than three years of torture, forced labour and “sleepless nights”, before being rescued on August 23rd, with his wife and baby.

“Today, Europe has once again turned its back on migrants who are asking for nothing [more] than to live,” wrote Souleman. “Do black lives really matter? If yes, it has to expand to the central Mediterranean.”

Since 2017, the EU has spent close to €100 million on the Libyan coast guard, helping it to intercept boats of refugees and effectively stop new arrivals to Europe. Tens of thousands of men, women and children have been caught at sea and forced back to a cycle of imprisonment and abuse. Links between the militias that run detention centres and smugglers who send migrants and refugees to sea have been well documented.

Between August 17th and 20th there were at least four shipwrecks in the central Mediterranean Sea, according to Alarm Phone, an organisation which takes distress calls from refugees. This included the deadliest of the year, where 45 people died.

One of the victims was Sudanese poet Abdel Wahab Latinos, who wrote a poem shortly before he died saying “we will flee towards exile, but migration is also cruel, it’s unbearable. It will absorb our souls inevitably”.

Eritrean journalist and activist Meron Estefanos tweeted saying another victim was a 25-year-old called Jemal, who had spent four years in “hell in Libya”. He was held for ransom at least twice, and contracted tuberculosis in detention, before being told he had no chance at legal evacuation to a safe country.

“About three weeks ago he called me and said be there for my mother,” Estefanos said. “I didn’t understand what he meant and I just told him to stay strong. It’s like he knew he was about to die . . . How many more have to die for [the] EU to care about black lives?”

On Saturday, two United Nations agencies released a joint statement calling for a safe port to be granted to rescue ships.

“The humanitarian imperative of saving lives should not be penalised or stigmatised, especially in the absence of dedicated state-led efforts,” the statement read.

*This article was amended at 7.30pm on August 31st, 2020