At the end of yet another week of migration tragedies, I have to admit that I do not know what to say. I had hoped, you see, that once the desperate situation that I have been writing about for nine years finally came to the world's attention, migrants would be helped and that we would see an end to the perilous journeys they feel compelled to make. I did not anticipate an end to their coming, but an end to deaths on migrant routes. Instead, more and more people are dying and attutudes are hardening in several parts of the world.
Last weekend Italian and other operatives in the Mediterranean saved 4,700 people and on Wednesday alone, in ten Italian Coast Guard operations, 3,000 people were rescued. However, Wednesday was also the day on which a Swedish ship rescued 439 migrants from an overcrowded boat but found 52 bodies in the hold. The arrival of these bodies in the Port of Palermo late last night was another sad sight of a type that we have, I am afraid, become used to in Sicily. Italian police said tonight that survivors have told them that migrants trying to get out of the hold to access water and air were held back at knifepoint by the people traffickers in charge of the boat. In addition, this afternoon the BBC started to report that hundreds of deaths are feared after two boats capsized off Libya earlier.
Other reports tonight say that the number of bodies found in a lorry in Austria has risen to 71 and that four of these poor souls were children. It is also being reported that UK police have arrested 27 migrants found on an Italian lorry in the County of Surrey. [The driver was also arrested but later released.] Meanwhile Hungary builds a barbed wire fence and security in Calais is still being increased. Suspected people traffickers continue to be arrested in all the receiving countries but the basic problem, which is that people are literally running for their lives, is not being addressed.
To cries of, "They only come to Britain for the benefits" I would say that few people would put their lives in such obvious danger for a few hand-outs after a bureaucratic process. Besides, would you rather live in a country that people want to come to or one that people flee?
Mrs Merkel, a lady I have not often praised in these posts, braved booing crowds this week to condemn racism and attacks on asylum seekers and later in the week she and President Hollande called for a faster and more unified EU response to the situation. Could it be that these two leaders have woken up or was the statement prompted by the fact that Germany is taking in more asylum seekers than any other country in the EU? Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni saw the statement as grounds for cautious hope, so perhaps we should, too.
You may have noticed that I have used the word "people" instead of "migrants" several times in this post for, as Al Jazeera English pointed out a few days ago, the term "migrant" is fast becoming pejorative. This set me thinking, for language, of course, matters. When I first started writing about the crossings to Sicily, I used the term that the Italian media used at the time, which was clandestini. Sometimes I used my own unsatisfactory coinage, "would-be illegal immigrants" because they were not illegal immigrants if they were arrested and sent back, as they often were. Over the past few years I have dropped the term clandestini, as has the Italian media, in my case because the term had a negative connotation and because there is nothing "clandestine" about braving the Mediterranean Sea in an inadequate, open boat. I despair when the media talk about the migrant "burden", as Sky News did last night in an otherwise insightful report, as until we start seeing refugees as human beings with the same aspirations as ourselves, there is no hope - for them or for us.