Between Hell and the Deep Blue Sea

Scenes of the infamous Slave Trade haunt Africans. Boats with rotting sides and water-logged engines hauling human cargo packed and sometimes locked three deep in the hollows. All that is missing are the chains and shackles. For the human cargo the only possession is a dream, a dream of a better life in a country where they believe there exists value to a life.

The drowning of 1,750 people since the start of this year is a great human tragedy of the 21st century. These people are in addition to the 3,419 who drowned last year and the 27, 000 that we know of, who have drowned since the start of the century trying to escape the hell of grinding poverty and war in Africa and the Arabian states.

They symbolize a level of desperation so deep that people will risk ending their lives rather than live the ones they have. Filthy politics has created this tragedy. We are witnessing the tail end of the 20th century’s orgy of exploitation and the deliberate delaying of Africa`s industrialization.

For the young man from Ghana who drowned three weeks ago, his inheritance of Ghanaian independence from 1957 was to live on less than $2 a day. For the Somalian mother who drowned, filthy politics of imperial occupation have gutted, raped and starved her nation for the last 25 years for a piece of a strategic oil pie. And for the Eritrean husband who drowned, what else was there left to fight off except the sea? Filthy politics has created this tragedy and it looks like filthy politics is about to capitalize on it. The human trafficking in the Mediterranean is reaching another level of immorality. And with it are those either directly or indirectly engineering the Mediterranean disasters or simply prepared to capitalize on them for a political agenda.

Before NATO’s destruction, Libya was the economic mecca for East, West , North Africa and the Arabian States. Today it is only the gateway for illegal immigration to Europe. Tens of thousands still make the journey here on foot from as far away as Somalia, a journey of some 5000 km across the Sahara.

Libya’s Coast Guard operate a search and rescue mission as well as illegal immigration control. With resources from the government of the now `democratic` and Gadhaffi-less failed state limited, their job is difficult. Coupled with this is the increasing risk to their own lives. The Libyan Coast Guard operating south of Tripoli are in rebel-held territory. Within this increasingly lawless territory, human smuggling is now big business commanding at least $1000 for a one-way ticket across the Med. The Coast Guard are their only obstacle. The Coast Guard are now being shot at out at sea and hunted down back on shore.

“We carry on working because otherwise these people will die. You have to sacrifice yourself to save these people. Today we`ve recovered 2 dead bodies from the capsized boat. There are kids, there are women. There are old people. Sometimes you are brought to tears as you are working. One time we had someone give birth on the boat. We rescued them and a newborn baby was with us. Once when rescuing people at night, one person died in front of me and I couldn`t save him. There were 108 people who needed rescuing and there were only 4 of us in the team. It was impossible to rescue all 108 people! He drowned in front of me and I could not reach him! People just drowning, it `s horrific!”

It has since been announced that the Libyan Coast Guard will only be responding to May-Day requests; search and rescue will no longer be a standard procedure. (Source: VICE NEWS.)

The Coast Guard’s duty is over once immigrants are handed over to the authorities on shore. The authorities are now in the hands of rebel groups in war torn and NATO destroyed Libya. Those rescued out at sea are then taken to immigration detention centres. Here they are held with thousands of other people arrested for being illegal immigrants in Libya. These detention centres are notorious. Zawiyah Detention Centre is nothing more than a prison; a medieval prison where men are packed 45 to a small room; 200 people share a toilet and medical facilities do not exist. Reports of abuse and torture for entertainment of bored prison officials abound; stories of young children and women humiliated and abused. Here access to UNHCR or any legal representation is a daydream in a cesspit where people are left to rot for indefinite periods of months or years.

A Syrian who made it to Italy said of his time in a detention centre: “ The people in Misrata are not the same as us. It was unbelievable, they`d come in and hit people, embarrass them. There is no mercy in their hearts.”

A spokesman for a group of detained Senegalese said: “They beat us in here. There is no food to eat. We just ask to go home, back to Senegal. Our families don`t even know if we are dead or alive.”

A Ghanaian: “I just want to go back home, home to my country.”

An Ethiopian: “I speak on behalf of all the African countries here. We are tortured everyday, treated like animals. Each day I hear that slavery is over, but slavery is here in Libya.”

Repatriation programs are on hold supposedly due to the instability of the country. Life on the streets of Libya at this time is fragile. Or are the detainees becoming valuable?

What if there was more to this? What if detainees were being given the sole option of buying their way out of prison and directly onto a boat bound for Europe? What if detainees were being conscripted onto boats?

What political agenda would benefit from this? This is how British Prime Minister David Cameron responded after the drowning of 800 people on the 19 April in the worst maritime disaster since WWII:

“We should put the blame squarely with the criminal human traffickers who are the ones managing, promoting and selling this trade, this trade in human life…We are doing everything we can to try and stop them.”

Shortly after, Cameron announced that Britain would be looking into the legality of military strikes against the human traffickers who happen to be based in African hotspots. The first combat vessel is already on its way to the Med, HMS Bulwark, along with three Royal Navy Merlin helicopters.

What a strange response! So we are left wondering, are those with a political agenda involved with human traffickers or are they just capitalizing on human sorrow? Is this human tragedy being carefully crafted into a humanitarian crisis worthy of a humanitarian invasion? Angelina Jolie has recently issued an appeal on behalf of UNHCR for the UN to assist the Syrian refugees being as `they` have failed to topple Assad by military force. She included in her speech a mention of the humanitarian disaster in the Med. Refugees in need of UNHCR`s dubious protection.

The move to bring in combat vessels, like HMS Bulwark, is being heralded as a successor program to the Atalanta Operation that is operated by the European Union Naval Force. Yes, that is correct, the EU has its own navy. This operation is to deter Somali pirates in the world`s most lucrative shipping route covering the Gulf of Aden, Yemeni coastline, Red Sea and Suez Canal. In reality it is the militarization of the seas. And just as Somalis have lost the sovereignty of their coastal waters, Libyans will too. Somalis took to defending their territorial waters in the early 1990s in an attempt to protect what remained of their fish stocks from foreign super-trawlers and to stop the illegal toxic waste disposal off the Somali coast.

The European Union has recently issued its 10-point response to the migrant `problem`:

* Reinforce the Joint Operations in the Mediterranean, namely Triton and Poseidon, by increasing the financial resources and the number of assets. We will also extend their operational area, allowing us to intervene further, within the mandate of Frontex;

* A systematic effort to capture and destroy vessels used by the smugglers. The positive results obtained with the Atalanta Operation should inspire us to similar operations against smugglers in the Mediterranean;

* EUROPOL, FRONTEX, EASO and EUROJUST will meet regularly and work closely to gather information on smugglers modus operandi, to trace their funds and to assist in their investigation;

* EASO to deploy teams in Italy and Greece for joint processing of asylum applications;

* Member States to ensure fingerprinting of all migrants;

* Consider options for an emergency relocation mechanism;

* A EU wide voluntary pilot project on resettlement, offering a number of places to persons in need of protection;

* Establish a new return programme for rapid return of irregular migrants coordinated by Frontex from frontline Member States;

* Engagement with countries surrounding Libya through a joined effort between the Commission and the EEAS; initiatives in Niger have to be stepped up.

* Deploy Immigration Liaison Officers (ILO) in key third countries, to gather intelligence on migratory flows and strengthen the role of the EU Delegations

Now we can make sense of the EU`s refusal to assist the Italian government with its remarkably effective, life saving search and rescue operation called Mare Nostrum. Now we can understand why this Italian response based on compassion after the Lampedusa tragedy, was replaced by a private operation run by a private corporation, Frontex . From human compassion to commercial venture, what kind of mentality is behind the European Union? Is this part of Empire`s masked corporate war against China and France?

Ending slavery is a catch phrase, as of late, within the international community. So well timed, we must think. Genuine compassion or a priming process? Problem, Reaction, Solution. The public outcry against the mass drownings of desperate people at the hands of slave traders demands a solution. The solution being applied does not include the eradication of poverty or resolution of war.

Reporters for the various media seem to be quite capable of speaking to some of the big boys in the smuggling game and reading their profit and loss sheets. But these big boys appear to remain elusive to those who would arrest them.

Which leads to the question, what is behind a billion dollar trade that involves money laundering, arms and drugs smuggling and the increasingly profitable human cargo? Has the Empire become so resourceful that it can use the same element to destabilize Libya, murder Gadhaffi, re -evolve into a rebel movement against the Libyan government, create civil war and now be the excuse for humanitarian military presence in Mali, Niger, Libya, Somalia and the entire Mediterranean Sea?

PD Lawton writes at