Tuesday, July 14, 2015

SUMMER TIDES, 2015 - 3

The world's attention may now be centred on Greece but that other tragedy in the Mediterranean goes on and, as more and more migrant boats attempt the dangerous crossing, heartbreaking stories continue to emerge:

Last Tuesday an interfaith funeral was held in Catania for the first 13 bodies to have been recovered from the wreck of the boat involved in the 18th April tragedy, in which up to 850 people are estimated to have lost their lives.  The wreck is lying on the seabed 85 miles northeast of the Libyan coast and the Italian Navy is painstakingly carrying out the recovery operation, which is likely to take many months. Premier Renzi has promised that all the bodies will be recovered and that the victims will receive a dignified funeral.

While this was happening two young Nigerian men were being treated for horrific arm and leg injuries in a hospital in Siracusa. They say that they were thrown from a fourth floor window in the Libyan building where they were being held prior to their departure because they were unable to find all the money that the people traffickers required for their journey. They were then forced aboard a dinghy.  Somehow they survived the journey but one of them nearly lost his leg and it is due to the skill of the surgeons in Siracusa that it was saved, 

Meanwhile the world seems to have forgotten the migrants of Ventimiglia, some 51 of whom continue to protest and camp out on the rocks there, with the French border closed to them.  All these migrants want to do, like Nonno Abdel in a story carried by several Italian newspapers, is to join relatives in Northern Europe. Nonno Abdel is a 92-year-old Syrian refugee who crossed the Mediterranean with some of his family. His one wish was to see his daughter or sister again [there are conflicting accounts] but once he got to Germany after being looked after by nuns in Siracusa, his relative was not there to welcome him. He now waits for official refugee status in a German reception centre. Nonno Abdel is the oldest migrant to have reached Italy and you would have to have a heart of stone to look at his picture and remain unmoved.  

No one reading Saturday's Corriere della Sera online edition could be unmoved, either, by the image of a little girl clutching a teddy bear as she gazes at the sea from the Port of Palermo. She was brought there on Saturday by an Italian naval ship after being rescued from an overcrowded dinghy carrying around 130 people. The dinghy had almost sunk when the Italian Coast Guard reached it. Twelve bodies from the dinghy were also brought ashore at Palermo and among them was the little girl's mother.  The Italian Coast Guard saved 393 people from this dinghy and three others nearby on Friday. The ship carrying the little girl and the bodies brought a total of 717 rescued migrants to Palermo and 11 people traffickers have now been arrested in connection with these arrivals.

On Friday evening the Italian Mission to the UN tweeted that that the Italian Coast Guard had rescued 969 migrants in six operations on that day alone.

Apart from the rescues, is there any good news on migration this week? Yes, there is:  after reading about so much cruelty and sorrow, it was heartwarming to learn that, in the Veneto, where a tornado struck the Riviera del Brento on Wednesday, causing one death, several injuries and much structural damage, around 30 migrants from a reception centre in the area are voluntarily helping to clear up and rebuild homes. They say they are doing this to repay the kindness shown to them by locals. 

I'll end with some words from a perhaps unlikely source, namely Richard Gere, speaking in June at the Taormina Film Fest. [Rumour has it that he came to Modica, but nobody saw him!]

"The whole world is very aware of the problems of displaced people, and people running away from conflict, people running away from poverty. In Sicily you are in the epicentre of the problem....And it begs the question, 'What is our responsibility towards people?' Even from a selfish point of view, we should be providing homes and security to people who need it. It makes us more secure for other people to feel secure, for other people to not feel damaged. Those of us who have more should be giving more back. Europe is getting very serious about this. I think the U.S. should do more to help people out in these situations.  If we want security, we have to create a world where everyone has the minimum, in terms of food, shelter, opportunities, healthcare, all these things - 99% of the problems go away, right there.”

This may seem simplistic but solutions often are. They are words which the world would do well to heed, and not only with regard to migration.

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