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Wednesday, June 01, 2016

How much longer can the massacres at sea be allowed to continue?

From A World to Win News Service:
"This week was a massacre," said a spokeswoman for the NGO Save the Children, after at least 800 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean in three days.

The reasons and responsibilities were multiple. The vessels carrying them were death traps. But even now, after one unbearable tragedy after another in central Mediterranean waters, the European powers refuse to initiate a systematic search and rescue operation. Thousands of refugees have been picked up by NGO vessels, passing freighters, the Italian navy and a few other EU military ships, but the main Western effort remains criminally focused on Operation Sophia, designed and equipped to interdict and arrest smugglers, destroy their boats and deter further migration, not to save people from drowning. 

If thousands of people who left from Libya have been rescued in the central Mediterranean, it is because there are so many people trying to make the crossing that even the most temporary, improvised effort can scoop them up. These half-hearted rescue interventions seem intended to save the moral legitimacy of European governments and the West in general. Yes, they save some people, but it can't be overemphasized that the existing situation makes one after another massacre at sea inevitable. These deaths are the result of political choices. Any number of drownings is considered acceptable to keep mass migration from threatening order in Europe. 

This indifference to humanity is further demonstrated in the way they treat those refugees who do survive. It would be only a slight exaggeration, at most, to say that the EU has turned the Greek government into a prison subcontractor. The stubborn resistance of refugees demanding to be admitted into the EU in Idomeni, at the border with Bulgaria, is a political embarrassment for the EU. Greek police have been bulldozing the tent city and busing its inhabitants to temporary shelters in military bases and other establishments. The official reason is that the encampment is not fit for human habitation. But initial NGO reports indicate that the networks they were able to set up at Idomeni to provide minimal sanitation, medical, educational and other support have been destroyed, not replaced. 

Save the Children says that new government-run camps in northern Greece lack adequate toilets. Adults and children are not getting enough water, food to eat more than once a day, and the most basic hygiene supplies. The NGO also warns of the danger to unaccompanied children now that existing informal networks and relationships have been ripped apart (there doesn't even seem to be a registry of who has been sent where), and of parents and children becoming separated in the Greek government's haste to evacuate Idomeni. It is undeniable that this move was meant to put people out of sight and under control, no more motivated by concern for their welfare than what the Western navies are doing in the Mediterranean. 

The political choices at work became even more apparent with the establishment of a Western-backed puppet government in Libya, whose purpose, among others, is to turn the country into a wall to keep people out of Europe, a project even more criminal than futile. This paper "government' is supposed to authorize Nato ships to raid the Libyan coastline, take over ports and destroy fishing boats and other craft seen as potential smuggling vessels, which the UK, in particular, labels a security threat to Europe. These measures could include European armed operations on Libyan soil – after years of US and European military intervention, under one pretext after another, trying to put back together under Western domination a country that Western interference tore apart.

It is true that there are smugglers with no concern for human lives – no more than, say, finance capitalists invested in tobacco companies, the weapons manufacturers at the heart of Western economies, the big Western clothing brands whose suppliers' factories in Bangladesh are even bigger death traps, or any of the owners and political representatives of finance capital that is destroying the planet and its people. Whatever the responsibility of these small-time opportunists, that is not the basic problem.

The basic problem is a globalized imperialist system of economic exploitation and political domination that makes the risk of death the best available option for so many people in countries dominated by this system. What does it tell you about the way the world is organized when many people in Eritrea, Gambia, Ghana and Nigeria, where most of this week's dead came from, are as desperate as people in war-torn countries like Syria?

The European powers' reaction to this "crisis" is to make it their priority to keep people out – to use their police and militaries to enforce the present world order at a time when the "migrant" crisis shows just how much today's division of the world is unacceptable and unsustainable. 

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