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October 21, 2013
October 21, 2013

Mediterranean: a cemetery for migrants

Author: Zissis Papadimitriou Translator: Anna Papoutsi
Source: TVXS  Category: Borders
This article is also available in: elesit
Mediterranean: a cemetery for migrants

The Mediterranean was once the epicentre of the then known world, a commercial crossroads between East and West, a mixture of peoples and cultures but also the scene of many wars. In people’s memory, it is connected to Homer and the ill-fated Ulysses, who, before finally reaching Ithaca, wandered for ten years between Troy and Gibraltar. While Ulysses was fortunate enough to reach his homeland, thousands of migrants from African and Asian countries leave their homes in order to survive, living under squalid conditions and facing daily hunger.

From 2001 onwards, approximately 7,000 “illegal immigrants”, as many are used to calling them in public debates on tackling immigration, have met a horrible end in the inhospitable waters of the Mediterranean, culminating in the last two tragic shipwrecks off the coast of Lampedusa where hundreds of African men, women and children lost their lives.

Victims of colonialism and imperialism, the “cursed”, according to Franz Fanon, of the Third World seek a better life in the capitalist paradise of the West and particularly in the European countries, only to meet the complete indifference of the EU institutions and even the hatred of many ordinary people ideologically perplexed. As it is known, the main cause of migration is the development gap between industrialised and underdeveloped countries and thus the unequal distribution of social wealth among nations and people.

Here’s how the well-known Swiss writer Jean Ziegler describes the Odyssey of migrants from Africa arriving almost daily at the shores of the countries of southern Europe: “From the lands of black Africa, a ceaseless wandering crowd surges to the Sahara. Their dream? To reach the shores of the Mediterranean and then Europe. Many are lost in the Straits of Gibraltar. They start, stacked by the hundreds, on rusted lorries… travelling for three or four days, and at this stage of the journey the human cargo begins to agonise. On both sides of the road there are pits filled with dead bodies… In May 2001, a Touarek caravan discovered, north of Teneré, 141 corpses. 60 of them were Nigerians and the rest came from Ghana, Cameroon, Niger and Gold Coast”.

After the event and to save face, the President of the European Commission, Mr. Barroso, visited, accompanied by the Italian PM Letta, the island of Lampedusa to express his condolences to the inhabitants of the island and the country. In his statements and under the jeers of the inhabitants he mumbled some half-truths, avoiding to refer to the Dublin Agreement –tailor-made and based on the interests of core European countries–, in which the countries of the European south are called to solve on their own the problem of the tens of thousands of migrants arriving almost daily on the shores of Greece, Spain , Italy , etc., piled by the hundreds in old rotten boats, since the infamous agreement does not allow migrants to move to other EU countries.

It turns out that it is not possible to address the long term problem of migration with paramilitary units such as “FRONTEX” who is supposedly guarding the borders. For countries like Greece with its more than 3,000 islands and islets and 16,000 km of coastline, any measure to tackle “illegal” immigration would be irrelevant –to say the least–, if not absurd .

The behaviour of EU institutions on migration, borders on perversion. It is true that the absorption capacity of migrants in the EU is limited, let alone in the countries of the European South with the multitudes of unemployed people because of the economic crisis. However, the solution is not indifference; it is the distribution of migrants based on the population and the economic potential of each country and above all the development aid to the countries of origin of migrants, a prerequisite for the effective resolution of the problem.


*Zissis Papadimitriou is a Professor of Law at the University of Thessaloniki

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