The Dangerous Journey of Crossing the Mediterranean

Late last month, a ship carrying migrants of various nationalities across the Mediterranean Sea capsized, killing well over 700 and maybe as many as 950 passengers. Only 28 people are said to have been rescued and are seeking medical help in Sicily. The European Union has been scrambling to deal with this humanitarian crisis, but the outlook is bleak. Rescue missions continue as conversations about migrants and the narratives surrounding them are dominating the media; tens of thousands of immigrants cross into Europe each year through Libya, Tunisia, and other neighboring countries in search of a better life for themselves and their families. These migrants are often met by callous smugglers, boat captains and the roaring seas with little to no protection. They pay thousands of dollars to smugglers who promise them a better a future in Europe, but many end up abandoned at sea or, if they are lucky enough to touch European soil, are met with harsh working conditions and discrimination. News photographer Massimo Sestini published his work capturing the terrifying and devastating conditions aboard a migrant ship carrying Africans and Syrians during an Italian rescue mission.

African asylum seekers on board a rescue craft dispatched from an Italian navy ship.

African asylum seekers rescued off boats and taken aboard an Italy navy ship. Syrian refugees sleeping on an Italian navy ship after being rescued from a fishing vessel carrying 443 Syrian asylum seekers.  Italian soldier carries a Syrian child on a ship after the Italian navy rescued 443 Syrian asylum seeker off a fishing vessel. Syrian refugee girl sleeping on an Italian navy ship after being rescued.   img_5851 Migrants have always been treated as second-class citizens, but there is a special kind of hatred reserved for migrants from the global South.* “Lazy,” “job-stealing,” “incompetent,” and “hindrance to society” are among the many negative descriptors propagated by mainstream media that garner distaste for immigrants. They are scapegoated and almost always treated as second-class citizens, regardless of whether they hold the nation’s passport. Even the idea of calling someone an “illegal” is dehumanizing and implies that their lives are somehow less important because they lack documentation. Europeans cry oppression and lament at the “burden” they face of caring for these ungrateful immigrants. “Why is Europe open to everybody?” is a question often asked to decontextualize the history of how the third world came to be what it is today and what drives these people to immigrate to European countries. After all, immigrants are seen as failures of the system as opposed to being failed by the system. Immigrant lives hold little to no value to most people, and the mere mention of them leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths. There is absolutely no empathy or even attempts at sympathy. This sentiment is represented by an unpublished Charlie Hebdo Magazine cartoon featuring a racist caricature of drowning African migrants captioned (translation from French) “Family reunion in the Mediterranean.”  Recently, Non-Summit, a Korean comedy show that features a mock UN summit hosting several Korea-residing foreigners, raised the issue of immigration. The Italian representative, Alberto Mondi, brought up Italy’s rescue program called Mare Nostrum. This mission saved about 150,000 lives in 2013 alone but was forced into discontinuation due to lack of financial support from the European Union. Canadian representative Guillaume Patry, after hearing about the thousands of dollars immigrants pay to be smuggled into Europe, asked “why not spend that money on a house or their families?” to which the Ghanian representative, Sam Okyere, responded with “It’s not that simple.” The stark contrast between white golfers and African immigrants scaling security fences. He’s right. It isn’t that simple. Let’s first set some things straight. European countries are not the only countries that people migrate to. They may be the majority, but there are plenty of other countries that host immigrants and refugees all over the world — so let’s cut out the White Man’s Burden drivel. Also, when examining countries that have the highest refugee statuses, they often have a history of colonization and exploitation by (surprise) European countries. The distribution of wealth has been absurdly skewed since the beginning of European invasions, captured by the stark contrast between white golfers in Spain and African migrants scaling security fences. This is not to say that the civil wars and poverty around the world are all the West’s fault, but we must confront the reality that is our history instead of resorting to reductive vitriol. That history is that migrants are forced to abandon their dignity and work in thankless jobs while being treated as sub-humans by the very descendants of the people who set their homelands ablaze. There seems to be widespread amnesia when it comes to the contributions immigrants make in their host countries. European nationals enjoy ethnic restaurants, are treated by immigrant doctors, and have their houses cleaned and their children raised by immigrants, but forget to afford immigrants their humanity. Western European immigrants are treated with the warranted amount of respect and reverence when abroad but do not show the same congeniality and hospitality to those in their homelands. Horror stories of abuse and discrimination passed from immigrants to those back home have become commonplace, but that does not stop millions every year from taking on the wild seas in search of a better life. Those who are the least privileged, most exploited, and the most vulnerable are not protected by the system but instead end up in a system rigged against their favor. You would think with the abundance of wealth and prosperity, these countries would be a little more giving, but I guess we expected too much. Sunday night, a Nigerian woman gave birth to a healthy baby girl named Francesca Marina aboard the Italian vessel that rescued over 7000 migrants in just three days. She named her Francesca Marina after Pope Francis and the vessel Marina Militare. Both the mother and child are in good health. This is a little ray of light in an otherwise dark and bleak situation. We hope to hear more good news like this, insha Allah. Our prayers go out to the deceased and their loved ones. May God return the rest safely to their homes. _________________________________________________________

*The North–South divide is broadly considered a socio-economic and political divide.
Generally, definitions of the Global North include North America, Western Europe anddeveloped parts of East Asia.
The Global South is made up of Africa, Latin America, and developing Asia including the Middle East. 
See also: Third World. (source)

All images credited to Massimo Sestini unless sourced otherwise.