2011-04-07 African refugees murdered, drowned in the Mediterranean

The UK's Independent is reporting from an Eritrean priest who tracks migrants across the Mediterranean that the bodies of murdered African migrants have been washing ashore in Libya. Father Mussie Zerai, who is in Rome, says that his contacts in Tripoli have seen five bodies in a hospital that are thought to be part of a group of approximately 335 predominantly Eritrean and Ethiopian refugees who have been missing since a few hours after departing Tajura on March 22 in a boat driven by a smuggler. “There are five bodies in total, two women, two boys and an Egyptian who we believe was the boat’s captain. Their bodies have gunshot wounds in them. Somebody shot them after they left Libya. ... This is a murky affair which must be investigated.” Father Zerai is quoted as saying.

A relative of two of the passengers reported them missing to Father’s Zerai’s organisation, Agenzia Habeshia, and human rights organization Everyone Group who say they immediately alerted the authorities to ask for patrols to be sent into international waters and requested the intervention of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “This morning, after two weeks of inaction and indifference from the authorities and international institutions, we heard from Don Mussie Zerai that the bodies of those migrants, riddled with bullets, are being washed ashore,” Roberto Malini, Matteo Pegoraro and Dario Picciau, co-presidents of the international humanitarian organization EveryOne Group reported. “It would appear that the boat carrying the refugees was attacked in the Mediterranean, and that the shots were so rapid that the migrants did not have time to sound the alarm with the satellite phone they’d taken on board."

EveryOne Group also criticizes Europe’s failure to send personnel and vessels to patrol the international waters between Italy and Libya, especially after the tragedy last night when a boat capsized with 200 Somalis and Eritreans on board (of which only 47 were rescued). “These tragedies out at sea” continue Malini, Pegoraro and Picciau, “highlight the lack of rescue plans for refugees. We need to deploy resources - both boats and aircraft - and modern rescue equipment, seeing the great number of migrants who are setting sail as we write despite the adverse weather conditions. There is a lack of advanced monitoring and logistics able to act urgently and effectively when the engine failure of a vessel is reported or an SOS is launched. It would appear that Europe is more focused on actions that will prevent the flow of refugees and getting round the Geneva Convention than implementing the necessary humanitarian policies.”

The plight of sub-Saharan Africans in Libya has been reported since the protests began on February 15, and yet very little has been done to evacuate them from the area. Father Zerai said “These were entirely preventable deaths. They could have been avoided if only Europe had heeded our pleas before the bombing began when we asked for the emergency evacuation of all refugees trapped on Libyan cities. So far only Italy has taken steps to evacuate around 110 refugees from Tripoli. Other European countries have preferred to take their time. As the refugees get more desperate they resort to making a dangerous journey across the Mediterranean on boats filled with desperate people hoping to rebuild their lives.”

This morning Italy searched for survivors after a boat with an estimated 200 Eritrean, Somalian and Sudanese refugees capsized off the island of Lampedusa. Rescuers managed to save 53 of them. The United Nations earlier reported two boats which departed Libya on March 22 and 25, carrying 335 and 68 refugees, were missing according to relatives. Last week around 60 bodies were washed up on the Libyan coast.

In addition to the estimated 2.5 million sub-Saharan Africans who already live in Libya, Europe worries that Libya may now be acting as an open gate from Africa. In 2008, Libya signed a treaty with Italy which required the Libyan navy to patrol and intercept migrant Africans trying to reach Europe, but when the UN began bombing Libya, Moussa Ibrahim announced that Libya would no longer stop sub-Saharan and other refugees from trying to enter Europe by boat. Italy's Interior Minister Roberto Maroni has announced "The prime minister will today sign a decree giving those already in Italy... a temporary residence permit for humanitarian protection that will allow them to travel around the Schengen zone. The overwhelming majority of the migrants want to join friends and relatives in France or other European countries." France has already returned a large number of immigrants crossing the border from Italy and promises to continue doing so, despite no border controls within the 25-nation Schengen zone, which includes most members of the European Union as well as Iceland, Norway and Switzerland.

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