Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : April 23rd 2015 Contents B3
Thursday, April 23, 2015 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
Last Sunday a fishing vessel packed
with an estimated 950 African refugees
fleeing terrorism, wars and perennial
poverty capsized off the coast of Libya.
It is feared that up to 700 of these
migrants of misery, some of whom were
locked below decks, have drowned, bring-
ing the total of fatalities in the last two
weeks to 1,600. Some 11,000 successfully
made the hazardous crossing to Italy in
the same period.
The Mediterranean, which was once
regarded as the cradle of western civili-
sation, is rapidly turning into a watery
graveyard, recalling the Atlantic during
the height of the slave trade, when thou-
sands of enslaved Africans drowned in
shipwrecks and storms, or were flung over-
board either for insurance claims or to
While European Union ministers gath-
ered on Monday, to discuss urgent strate-
gies to address this ongoing catastrophe,
Europe must hang its head in shame for
its failure to halt a humanitarian tragedy,
which has exploited some of the world s
most vulnerable people, while enriching
human traffickers in both Africa and
Libya, which itself is plunging rapidly
into failed state status, is now the major
transit point for African refugees heading
for a new life in Europe, via Sicily and
mainland Italy. Huge profits are being
made from human misery, as the refugees
have to pay for every leg of their perilous
journey. Those fleeing central Africa pay
anything up to 1,000 Euros (approximately
US$1,000) to cross the Sahara, en route
to the north African coast. Even this first
leg of the exodus is fraught with danger.
Many refugees are captured during the
desert crossing and forced to pay ransoms
of up to 3,000 Euros to continue north.
If they do make it to Libya, the crossing,
in fishing vessels packed with a human
cargo far exceeding their capacity, will cost
another 1,000 Euros and if they are lucky
enough to survive the Med, another 1,000
Euros must be paid to agents in Italy,
organising their onward journeys to other
European states. This journey through, or
to hell can cost anything between 3,000
and 6,000 Euros and there are no guar-
antees of a safe landfall. Europe is therefore
complicit in profiting from deaths, which
due to its own recent policies on immi-
gration could have been avoided.
EU member states last year pressurised
Italy, which has now become the first
choice landfall, into reducing the number
of coastguard vessels searching for refugee
ships, or more likely totally unsuitable
The shame of Europe small fishing boats.
The callous logic went something like this: scaled
down rescue operations would act as a deterrent
and reduce the flow of immigrants across the Med.
But well-heeled Europeans have completely under-
estimated the extent of the migrants desperation.
For the majority it is literally a matter of life and
death. It s impossible to ignore a subtext of racism
in the situation. Would Europe look on so blithely
if its own citizens were being trafficked to their
With the recent Ebola disaster western aid agen-
cies were slow off the mark and hindered by a
similar scaling down of both personnel and funds.
Amid the panic and paranoia induced by Ebola, it
is noteworthy that treatment for Europeans and
Americans was swifter and far better funded and
organised than in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
As negotiations for reparations for First Peoples
and enslaved Africans in the Caribbean gather
momentum, Europe must now face its responsibility
for centuries of exploitation.
Neither the past nor the present can be silenced.
A western master narrative, which boasts of its
civilising mission, its respect for human life and
dignity, must either come good in a rush, or be
exposed for the cynical and inhumane monster,
which has been hiding behind its self-awarded
mask of superiority. As in the days of the transat-
lantic slave trade, we are seeing humans being
treated as pawns of profit. Europe turned from the
Caribbean when slavery and sugar were econom-
ically unviable and at the end of the 19th century
stampeded into "the heart of darkness" in a "Scram-
ble for Africa" and a further round of pillaging nat-
ural resources from those it regarded as its
uncivilised" racial inferiors.
It s ironic that last week human bones excavated
at Gough s Cave at the mouth of the Cheddar Gorge,
in Somerset in the west of England showed evidence
of cannibalism. The bones date from 15,000 years
ago and according to Dr Silvia Bello who led the
research, "All the bones from the head down were
heavily modified with chewing".
The majority of the bones were cracked so that
Magdalenian cavemen could eat the marrow. There
is further evidence suggesting took place across
Europe during the Magdalenian period. So the
ancestors of the same people who would demonise
the Caribbean s Amerindians, were perpetrators of
the very same aberration they pointed up as a mark
The cacique Hatuey s response to the offer of
conversion to Christianity before his death at the
stake resonates with events unfolding now in the
Med. He preferred the flames of hell, to the pos-
sibility of encountering any more European devils
in the afterlife.
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