Friday, November 04, 2016


It is with great sorrow that I write, tonight, about yet another large-scale migrant tragedy in the Mediterranean. Although it is being reported internationally, events elsewhere are grabbing the headlines  and the deaths of at least 239 people on their tragic journey to what they hoped would be a life, if not a better one - for few of them would have been naive - have  received scant attention in the English language news bulletins I have watched today [Thursday].

As often happens in these cases, definite numbers are not, and may never be, available and details of what happened are being pieced together from what the survivors are able to tell their rescuers. What seems to have happened is as follows:

Two inadequate dinghies, one carrying 138 migrants and the other 140, left Libya in the early hours of Wednesday. The migrants knew that the boats were flimsy and would be overcrowded but were forced by people traffickers, who killed a man in front of them as a "lesson" in obedience - to embark. It wasn't long before the boats capsized in a rough sea about 25 miles off the Libyan coast. In a rescue operation involving five ships and coordinated by the Italian Coast Guard, 29 people were saved and taken to Lampedusa. Two were subsequently transferred to hospital in Palermo. So far 12 bodies, three of which are those of babies, have been recovered. Survivors think that the number of people missing could be 249.

If, as UNHCR estimates, the number is 239, that brings the death toll of migrants seeking safety in Europe this year to 4,220 - a staggering figure in a "civilised" world. Both the Mayor of Lampedusa, Giusy Nicolini, and UNHCR have today again called for safe corridors for migrants.

In other sad news today we learned that Fatim Jawara, the Gambian goalkeeper who played in the Women's Under 17 World Cup in Azerbaijan in 2012,  has died on a migrant crossing.  Her dream was to reach Europe and play for a major club here.  Instead, her body is thought to be among those of 97 migrants who died on the night of 27th October.  She was 19 years old.

Flavio di Giacomo of the IOM said today that people traffickers are telling migrants that Europe is training the Libyan Coast Guard to carry out rescue missions so that those saved can be taken back to Libya rather than European ports such as Lampedusa. This may explain the present rush to board the boats, whatever the risk.

On Thursday a further 766 migrants were rescued in the Mediterranean in seven operations led by the Rome Coast Guard.

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