Wednesday, July 11, 2012


What do you think of when you hear the word "Mediterranean"?  A bright blue expanse of seemingly endless water meeting a sky so blue that you cannot tell where the one ends and the other begins?  Holidays filled with lazy days passed on golden sands, the warmth of the waves massaging your body and people enjoying themselves all around you?  Or perhaps you think of the cookery of the region, replete with ingredients that were once thought exotic in Britain - olive oil, olives, peppers, aubergines, artichokes, okra... When I was a child, British people didn't holiday abroad as a matter of course and the Mediterranean seemed glamorous, mysterious and impossibly far away.  Young ladies from the USA or Britain who did arrive upon its shores had their heads turned by "that old moon above the Mediterranean sea", as Louis Prima sang.  Even now, I think I could have my head turned were some elderly prince to rise, Venus-like, from the waves.

"Mare Nostrum" to the Romans, the major trade route for peoples whose cultural heritage sings to us down the centuries - the Mesopotamians, Persians, Egyptians, Phoenicians and Greeks to name but a few - this was where the West began to meet the East, the crossroads of cultures and for many the centre of the world.

In our own era, though, as I've written many times before, this sea has come to signify tragedy and the end of hope for thousands of unfortunate souls who have found themselves trapped in horrific situations only because of their geographical position on the globe. Usually, however, their stories, though widely reported in Italy and Spain as the countries to which these "boatloads of sorrow" were headed, do not make world headlines.  Today, however, is an exception:

On Monday night, Tunisian fishermen in the Mediterranean spotted a young man clinging to a jerry can and the remains of an inflatable dinghy.  The fishermen immediately alerted the Tunisian Coastguard, who managed to rescue the 25-year-old man, who is now being treated for dehydration and exposure in hospital in Zarzis.

According to this survivor, the boat had left Libya 15 days before with 55 passengers hoping to reach Europe. Half of the passengers were Eritrean. After one day, the boat had almost reached the Italian coast but was blown back by strong winds. The passengers had not been allowed to take any drinking water on board so, in stifling heat, they began to suffer from dehydration and some, in desperation, drank sea water. Then the boat began to deflate.  The young man saw his fellow-passengers die one by one, among them three of his relatives.  

Image: Wikipedia

Laura Boldrini of UNHCR told La Repubblica that it is impossible that the boat had not been seen by the crews of other vessels in its 15 days on a sea full of military shipping. She said that sometimes crews are reluctant to help boats carrying migrants as the crews can often come under suspicion themselves or, at the very least, be held up while enquiries are made. T. Alexander Aleinikoff, the UN's Deputy Commissioner for Refugees, has made the following statement:

"I call upon all vessels at sea to be on heightened alert for migrants and refugees needing rescue in the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean is one of the busiest seaways in the world and it is imperative that the time honoured tradition of rescue at sea be upheld."

Ms Boldrini also explained that the Eritreans had fled their own country because of war and compulsory military service with no end date so they had not been able to return.

Another migrant boat, carrying 38 men, 11 women and one minor from Somalia was reported to be still at sea earlier today after its passengers refused the help of the Maltese coastguard.  This boat is believed to be the one later intercepted by the Italian coastguard. Its passengers, who are requesting refugee status, have been taken to the Sicilian port of Pozzallo, where they are being processed and helped.

ANSA has just reported that the Algerian coastguard has intercepted two stolen dinghies carrying 30 people, including three minors, and heading for Southern Europe.  


Rosaria Williams said...

None of these stories were picked up here in the States.
So, so sad.

Jenny Woolf said...

There are none so blind as those who don't see and I think that many don't want to see these migrants. I can hardly imagine what life must be like for them that they're prepared to do this, and I know they often have to pay vast amounts of money too for the privilege.

Gledwood said...

When I hear the word Mediterranean I think of Tolkien's Middle Earth; a literal translation of the name!

I remember seeing video of a bedraggled and starving nearly dead African man who had been washed up on an Italian beach full of sunbathers. They were rallying round giving him water etc... It was a terrible sight to see and such a sign of the times when people are so desperate to come to Europe away from severe economic hardship they're willing to risk death to do so.

I tried again and again to find the video on youtube to put on my blog. Either I was entering the wrong search terms (or I should have been using Italian) or it wasn't there. It's a shame because I think as many people should see that as possible :-(

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Rosaria. The BBC picked it up and it was the top story on their site for a short time today. Perhaps the American networks will have it later? Hi, Jenny. You are right - people don't want to see. The lives these migrants have left must have been hard beyond our imagination. Hi, Gleds. Tolkien... of course! I'd forgotten. I'll try and find the video for you. x

Patricia said...

I cannot imagine the courage and desperation that would take for people to set out in such perilous circumstances. My heart goes out to them. So very sad and I am so fortunate!

jams o donnell said...

Just read about this, Utterly tragic.

Laura said...

Thank you for telling this story. "Heartbreak" is so accurate.

I am curious to see if it is ever mentioned in the US - I somehow doubt it.

We need more people like you to continue to tell the stories of those unable to tell their own.

Whispering Walls said...

"Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink" - not good

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Patricia. As you say, we cannot imagine the desperation that would lead these sad souls to risk so much. It is indeed, jams. Thank you, Laura.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, WW: Not good at all and so sad.


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