Traffickers are overloading boats to enable people to flee terrible conditions in North Africa and the Middle East, with disastrous results.
In the early hours of Wednesday, 14 June, an old fishing vessel carrying up to 750 people capsized and sank 47 miles off the Greek coast.
So far 79 people have been confirmed as dead. Only 104 had been rescued by the time the search was called off, so it’s possible that more than 600 people have been lost in total. Survivors report that the boat sank “in minutes” in a place where the sea is four kilometres deep. It is unlikely the bodies, including up to 100 children, will ever be found.
The battered fishing vessel left from Tobruk, eastern Libya, and was heading for Italy despite Greece being a closer destination. The reason why is clear. In the past three years, Greece has enacted an increasingly harsh policy of pushbacks, making it almost impossible for asylum-seekers to arrive safely on Greek territory.
Many of the victims were Pakistani. You’ve got to wonder how bad life is in Pakistan that they would risk drowning or Greece, where the survivors have now been thrown into barren warehouses under armed guard. They must have been hoping to reach civilized Great Britain, that land of prosperity and liberty that would treat them with dignity and respect.
I’m joking, of course.
If any of the survivors of the shipwreck make it to Calais, and brave another crossing over the English Channel, their reception will be no better than in Greece. Starting later this month, the Home Office plans to house people seeking asylum in the UK onboard a barge that has been likened to a floating prison by multiple organisations, including MSF UK.
The Bibby Stockholm is a barge that has been designed for 220 people. Is currently being refitted in Falmouth to accommodate 500 asylum seekers. It has been the target of an ongoing resistance campaign led by local groups, with regular protests and actions linking up to the #NoFloatingPrisons campaign launched by my refugee support organisation Reclaim The Sea.
Prison hulks are a long and dishonorable tradition in English history. Respect history!
Don’t forget or forgive America, either — we’re pretty casual about wrecking countries outside our borders, creating the refugees that are fleeing to their oppressors.