Migrants dead at sea and the voice of our conscience
Tuesday, November 14, 2017
The indelible images portraying the faces of desperate parents extending their arms to rescuers to save their children, stripping them from the liquid mass grave called Mediterranean Sea stand vividly before our own eyes. During the past years that saw us impotent witnesses of the appalling tragedy taking place in the Mediterranean we were also confronted with the terrible images periodically circulated by media outlets. Thousand of innocent victims trying to escape unavoidable death at sea, seeking help amidst the waves of a merciless sea.
The indelible images of the faces of desperate parents extending their arms to rescuers to save their children, stripping them from the liquid mass grave called Mediterranean Sea stand vividly before our own eyes.
We continue hearing the relentless, overbearing cries, the tears, the desperation, the sound of engines of rescue ships, the confusion of those crucial moments when life and death are submerged beneath the waves.
This situation which sadly turned into a tragic normality, was witnessed also past November 6, less than a week ago. In the early morning hours Rome’s Maritime Rescue Coordination issued an order to the NGO Sea Watch to respond to the distress call of a rubber boat carrying a high number of migrants, located approximately 30 nm north of Tripoli. In compliance with its own mandate, resulting from the agreement with Italy, the Libyan Coast Guard departed to reach the area of the Sar incident. A surreal negotiation began between the Coast Guard and the NGO to rescue those already at sea, some of whom were already lifeless bodies. Among them was a two-year-old child. The Sea Watch vessel rescued some of the shipwrecked migrants, others were taken out of the water by the Libyan Coast Guard vessel, but its sailors started hitting with sticks whoever attempted to dive into the sea to be rescued by Sea-Watch. This unbelievable situation had a tragic outcome: the Coast Guard started the engines to reach the African coasts despite the fact that a migrant was at sea, clinging to the starboard side. The man drowned before his wife’s own eyes.
The video and audio recordings circulated over the past days by Sea-Watch are evidence of the tragic events of those dramatic moments. Perhaps one day the responsibilities will be ascertained. But nobody will ever forget the naval officer shouting into a megaphone from an Italian Navy helicopter in the attempt to block the Libyan Coast Guard, issuing orders to stop. It’s not only the voice of a man who is diligently performing his duty, it’s a heartfelt appeal to save human lives that are being swallowed by the sea: “Libyan coastguard. Stop your engine and please cooperate with Sea-Watch. Please, cooperate with Sea-Watch! Libyan coastguard, Libyan coastguard, you have one person on the right side, please stop your engine! Stop your engine ! Stop your engine now !”
The unheard cries of that man trigger a deluge of contrasting feelings: anger, towards those who show no respect for other people’s lives; admiration for a person trying in every way to save human lives; disappointment towards those who had assured us that the new migration policies would have been respectful of human rights in every circumstance.
Thus the anonymous voice of the Italian marine officer becomes the voice of our conscience that can no longer withstand this complicit silence on what is happening on the opposite side of the Mediterranean.