I’ve been writing a lot lately about the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, which has been flooded with tens of thousands of refugees from North Africa since the Jasmine revolutions began in January. The situation is not really new — for the past four years or so we’ve posted on and off about Lampedusa, because the migrant crisis there waxes and wanes, but never really ends.
Today, however, marks the first time I’ve ever seen the island in the top headlines of the MSM. The occasion was the sinking of an overloaded boat carrying about 300 refugees from Libya, most of whom are presumed to have drowned. The boat was on its way to Lampedusa or Sicily when it went down in rough seas. This was enough of a tragedy to put the story into the major international wire services.
Before getting into details from this and other news stories, a review of the refugee situation is in order. We are currently witnessing the beginnings of the migrant crisis of “biblical proportions” that was forecast a couple of months ago by the Italian authorities. The Tunisians were just the opening salvo, and even though this latest boat hailed from Libya, it is said to have been packed with migrants who came mainly from Somalia, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Cote d’Ivoire, Chad, and Sudan.
This flood of black Africans and others has been held back for years by the totalitarian government led by Col. Moammar Qadafi. Col. Gheddafi repeatedly threatened the Europeans that if they did not meet his demands — which generally involved more financial “aid” — he would unleash a flood of black Africans upon Europe, the likes of which had never previously been seen.
His threats seemed peculiar, since the EU leadership had recently stated publicly that they needed to import fifty million more Africans over the next thirty years to meet their multicultural needs. One may presume that Col. Qadhafi’s threat was alarming only because the migrants would arrive too soon — years ahead of schedule. The replacement population was intended to be phased in gradually, so as not to alarm the white people of Europe, who were due to be supplanted without fully realizing it.
When the EU began to side with the Libyan rebels, Col. Gaddafi gave the Euros his final warning. Then, when the NATO bombs began to fall, he made good on his threat. The dam that had always held back the wretched refuse has now broken, and the resulting waves are beginning to flood the shores of southern Europe.
The crisis struck Italy first, but it has now spread beyond the Italian border. The current situation is complex, fluid, and difficult to predict except in the most general of terms. All we can say for certain is that the “Camp of the Saints” scenario has become a reality along the Mediterranean littoral of Southern Europe.
First let’s take a look at today’s tragic events, as reported by Reuters:
ROME, April 6 (Reuters) — Between 130 and 250 people were missing and at least 15 appeared to be dead after a boat carrying refugees from Libya capsized south of Sicily early on Wednesday, coast guard officials and aid workers said.
Rescuers picked up 47 people, including a heavily pregnant woman after the overloaded boat, which left Libya two days ago, sank at about 4:00 a.m. (0200 GMT) 40 miles (64 km) south of the island of Lampedusa.
According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), a migrant assistance agency which has officials on Lampedusa, an Italian fishing boat rescued another three people.
Between 15 and 20 bodies were seen in the water, officials said but high winds and rough seas made it difficult for coast guard boats and a police helicopter to operate.
Coast guard officials said the boat had originally been carrying around 200 people but the IOM put the figure as high as 300, of whom it said some 250 were missing.
The incident provided a stark illustration of the dangers run by desperate people who pay about 1,000 euros ($1,427) for a place on one of the overloaded fishing vessels carrying refugees and migrants from Africa.
“The vessel, which was laden beyond capacity, had left the Libyan coast with migrants and asylum seekers from Somalia, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Cote d’Ivoire, Chad and Sudan,” IOM said in a statement. “Some 40 women and 5 children were on board. Only two women survived the shipwreck.”
Most have been young men from Tunisia, seeking to get to France but in recent days there have been growing numbers of arrivals from Libya, underscoring Italian fears the fighting there could set off a new exodus.
IOM said that 2,000 mostly African migrants and asylum seekers had landed in Lampedusa from Libya in the past 10 days.
Lampedusa, roughly midway between Sicily and Tunisia, has been the focal point for the crisis, with some 20,000 illegal migrants arriving this year and overwhelming the infrastructure of the tiny island, which normally lives on fishing and tourism.
Thousands were forced to shelter in makeshift tent camps until Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi sought to end the weeks-long emergency by sending ferries to clear the island.
However, that has simply shifted the problem to other areas in Italy and caused arguments among regional governments over where to set up migrant holding centres.
ANSA has more details:
Rome, April 6 — Children were among “dozens” of victims spotted at sea amid searches for as many as 250 missing people after a boat carrying refugees from conflict-hit Libya sank near the southern Italian island of Lampedusa early Wednesday.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said they estimate around 300 were aboard the boat after its staff spoke to the 51 survivors picked up in the Channel of Sicily, although some survivors put the figure as high as 370.
Difficult conditions have hampered rescue operations, but an Italian Coast Guard official said that “it’s too soon to consider all hope lost”.
Tax police helicopter pilots assisting the operations coordinated from Palermo said they saw “little bodies of children” among the dozens of victims floating in waves as high as three metres whipped up by winds of 30 knots.
“We hoped to see someone raise their arms, but we didn’t,” one of the pilots said. United Nations refugee agency UNHCR expressed “grief and pain for the victims of this umpteenth human tragedy.
“The survivors spoke to the UNHCR’s officials in Lampedusa with a look of terror,” said UNHCR spokeswoman Laura Boldrini, who said that there were also people from conflict-hit Ivory Coast and other parts of Sub-Saharan Africa on the boat.
“Among them is a father who lost his one-and-a-half-year-old daughter in the tragedy.
“This incident shows the need for greater coordination between the naval vessels present in the Mediterranean and NATO forces to save human lives”. The IOM said all the survivors were suffering shock and many were in a state of hypothermia. Five of them have been taken into hospital, including a woman who is eight-months pregnant. Her condition and that of her unborn child are not worrying, health officials said.
As you can see from the above news, Col. Qaddafi has done exactly what he said he would. He has released hordes of black Africans — who are the most despised of human beings in the eyes of the Arabs — on Europe. He is relying on the well-known humanitarian sentiments of Europeans to ensure that all refugees will be taken in, fed, sheltered, given medical care, and supported, causing great expense and logistical difficulties to the European Union. The Colonel understands quite correctly that these migrants — illiterate, poverty-stricken, many almost certainly criminals and Al Qaeda terrorists — are a more potent weapon than tanks, fighter planes, warships, and artillery. Modern Multicultural Europe has no Maginot Line or Western Wall in place to deal with this sort of attack.
The Italian government, whose hands are tied by draconian European “human rights” laws concerning migrants, has been desperately attempting to bribe, bully, and cajole the Tunisian government into stemming the flow for them. Tunis is not obliged to observe the same niceties that are required of Italy, and now it seems to have received an offer that it couldn’t refuse:
On Tuesday, Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni signed an agreement with the Tunisian government to try to halt the flow, pledging aid, increased police cooperation and possible compulsory repatriation for illegal immigrants.
The accord was confirmed on Wednesday by a cabinet meeting in Rome which set up an inter-ministerial contact group to monitor progress.
The crisis was initially confined to Italy, and most of the migrants were Tunisians escaping the chaos that followed the overthrow of the Ben-Ali government. Many of those, however, regarded France as their ultimate destination, since they already have relatives residing in France. Tunisians who ended up at the Ventimiglia camp near the French border immediately tried to cross into France. Although the French would normally be required by EU law to accept anyone who crossed from another EU member state, they turned back the Tunisians at the border because they lacked any official papers:
Italy has also been at odds over the issue with France, which has turned back migrants trying to cross the border. Berlusconi is due to meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy on April 26 in Rome, when the issue will probably be discussed.
Mr. Berlusconi’s government has taken pre-emptive action, however, presumably in order to improve its bargaining position at the upcoming talks. The Italian government is now issuing temporary residence permits to the migrants, so that they are no longer undocumented, and can thus legally reside anywhere in the Schengen Area. The French can no longer return them to Italy without being in flagrant violation of EU law.
The French are shocked — shocked! — by the actions of the Italian government:
(ANSAmed) — PARIS, APRIL 6 — The headlines today in French daily Le Figaro, known for being very close to the positions taken by government of President Nicolas Sarkozy, opened with a long article entitled, “Rome gives France to Tunisian Immigrants”, on the decision of the Italian authorities to grant temporary stay permits to the hundreds of illegal immigrants who have arrived on the island of Lampedusa.
In the reference on the front page, Le Figaro led with “Italy opens the doors of Europe to Tunisian refugees”. “The latter,” continued the right-wing French daily, “have had the doors opened for them to the Schengen area, a stronghold with extremely fragile walls.”
In general, France considers most EU regulations to be optional at best, honoring them more in the breach than in the observance, but this one may be a bridge too far. The Interior Ministry is now busy looking for loopholes, hoping to find a way to send the newcomers back without being in technical violation of any of those annoying EU laws.
According to ANSAmed:
PARIS, APRIL 6 — “France wants to examine conformity with the Schengen code” of the temporary residence permit issued by the Italian authorities to Tunisian immigrants that landed in Lampedusa, according to today’s report by Le Monde.
Le Monde stated that “The ministry of the Interior in Paris still does not want to react: ‘We just heard of the Italian decision”‘. However, Le Monde continued, “before making any comments, Paris wants to ascertain the legal validity of the temporary residence permits that the Italian government should grant to Tunisian migrants”.
Le Monde claimed that in Brussels the entourage of Immigration commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom made reference to the Schengen code that regulates the circulation of people through the borders of Member States. In particular, Article 2 provides the possibility for a Country to grant “temporary residence permits” that allow holders to move in the overall Schengen area. Quoting sources in Brussels Le Monde stated that “Before granting these permits Italy will have to anyhow examine on a case-by-case basis the situation of every Tunisian expatriate that landed on its territory. The Italian government will have to make sure that nobody is ‘flagged’ in a police file and has not been interdicted from the territory”. Furthermore “the Tunisians who will be granted these permits must be carrying ‘travel papers’ with them and prove that they have ‘sufficient resources”‘.
It’s too early too tell whether this latest French stratagem will succeed, but for the time being, the Tunisians have been granted a way into France.
Realizing that the infection is on the verge of breaking out of its Italian quarantine, the European Union is preparing to for the arrival of the refugees:
(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, APRIL 6 — In light of the immigration emergency emerging from Libya and North Africa, European commissioner for internal affairs Cecilia Malmstrom set up an action plan and asked for the solidarity of the 27 member States ahead of the Council of EU ministers of the Interior that will meet on Monday and Tuesday in Luxembourg.
In un letter addressed to the EU Countries, the European commissioner asks for the implementation of a refugee allocation plan, with the potential activation of the directive on temporary permits, and also the implementation, as soon as possible, of a ‘special’ joint EU-Tunisia operational plan to ease the burden on Italy and Malta.
According to the commissioner the EU Countries should try to open reception centres for the refugees “in the spirit of sharing responsibilities and in close cooperation with Unhcr”.
In this context “it is imperative that Council and Parliament make an effort to quickly reach an agreement on the adoption of a proposal for a EU plan for the allocation of the refugees”. The implementation of a ‘special’ joint EU-Tunisia operational plan instead aims to deal with the large scale emergency that to date has brought some 20,000 migrants to Lampedusa and Malta.
The Camp of the Saints Crisis is still in its early stages, and an exact prediction of what lies ahead is impossible. All we can do is watch it unfold.
We can be certain, however, that we live in interesting times.
Hat tip: Insubria.