Remembering The Largest Massacre in the Mediterranean, And All Migrants Who Continue To Die At Sea

On the night between the 17th and 18th of April 2015, 800 people lost their lives in the largest shipwreck in the central Mediterranean Sea since the Second World War. Bangladesh, Eritrea, Nigeria and Somalia are just some of the countries where the migrants originally came from who, after departing Libya in their desperate attempt to reach Europe, were swallowed up by the sea.

The 27 survivors reached the port of Catania, where they were welcomed by a parade of institutions, journalists from the whole world, and hundreds of Italian citizens, some of them visibly moved by becoming aware only in that moment of the tragedies which have been bloodying the Mediterranean for years, others already determined to fight for justice and safe passage for those fleeing across the deathly sea.

On the morning of 18 April 2017, the Catanian Antiracist Network* and other individuals wanted to commemorate the great disappearing of two years’ prior through a symbolic gesture and a minute’s silence. We were around thirty people gathered at the port of Catania, including members of the crew from the Aquarius, docked in at port for a few days. The crew members shared accounts of their work on the rescue missions at sea, and expressed their sincere gratitude for the possibility to have a moment of commemoration, honouring the victims of the fatal crossings, even if only with a thought and a flower.


A moment of the commemoration in Catania

The importance of remembrance, and above all of not forgetting those who die at sea, was strong – while only a few metres away from us the landing operations of more than 1,000 migrants was ending, who had arrived on board the German vessel Rhein on Monday morning, part of the EUNAVFORMED ‘Operation Sophia’. There was no trace of any such initiatives in the media, and only a few words mumbled by the institutional representatives. Remembrance and providing information is more urgent now than ever before, in the moment in which the mainstream frames the issue of migration only in terms of security, meaning that it is extremely difficult to understand the reasons and methods migrants have available to them, as well as the humanitarian duties which European states must face up to.


The Rhein in port at Catania

Over the last week alone, around 8,500 migrants were disembarked in the main Sicilian ports, as well as in Sardinia and Calabria. The first Libyan Coast Guard motorboats are preparing their launch from Italy, in order to combat the trafficking of human beings which the very closure of Europe’s borders continues to nourish. The campaign of criminalizing the humanitarian ships is continuing at a startling pace, with slanderous and polemical articles in the newspapers and programs on TV, while the Senatorial Defense Commission* is calling for a hearing of each of the NGOs undertaking sea rescue missions, asking for an account of their work. Yet again, it is the refugees who will pay the highest price for these policies of repression and closure.

During the last rescue missions there were, in fact, around twenty deaths off the coast of Libya. The dead no longer make the news, and the landing operations of thousands of people – which we will talk about in more detail in further reports – showed all the inhumanity of a system in which humanitarian assistance takes second place to security checks by the Italian police force. Those who arrive provide news of those lost at sea, describing the difficulties of the rescue operations. The Aquarius brought a corpse into the port of Pozzallo on April 15th. Seven bodies arrived at Augusta on the 19th, and another body had arrived at Vibo Valentia the day before. Among them were two minors, who died far from home and their families, killed by the impossibility of constructing a better future. This massacre has been going on for years. We cannot forget it.

Lucia Borghi
Borderline Sicilia

Project “OpenEurope” – Oxfam Italia, Diaconia Valdese, Borderline Sicilia Onlus

*Catanian Antiracist Network = Rete Antirazzista Catanese
*Senatorial Defense Commission = la Commissione Difesa del Senato

Translation by Richard Braude