Friday, 11 March 2011

14,000 dead and nothing said

Although 14,000 have died since 1993 you are unlikely to see any words of sympathy for them. Certainly no one will be raising funds to commemorate their lives - especially as the vast majority have died anonymously in desperate circumstances. Because these are the refugees and economic migrants who are the real victims of immigration laws designed to keep them out of Europe. 

The list of deaths from the Amsterdam based UNITED for Intercultural Action aims to reenact the stories of the people behind the numbers to give them new visibility. It’s been compiled from documented sources such as newspaper reports, radio and TV stations, government bodies and the likes of the Institute of Race Relations.

It makes grim reading - even from the start with Liberian Gerry Johnson listed as dying of exhaustion/exposure when he was found in a rail container in Feldkirk in Austria on January 1st 1993. The fact that his name was known gives hope that his family and friends would have heard about his death, giving them a chance to mourn his passing rather than be left wondering for years why he had never contacted them after setting out for Europe.

But what of the 26 men who drowned trying to cross the Strait of Gibraltar from North Africa in September 1997, or the Kurdish man crushed to death under the wheels of a lorry leaving Dover in January 1999 or the 19, all believed to be under 17, who drowned early last year after their boat crashed and sank 20 metres from the Lanzarote coast? Or the 25-year-old African man found frozen to death close to the Turkish border on January 8th this very year?

UNITED, which is the largest European anti-racism network of over 500 organisations from 46 countries; believe there are a variety of reasons why people are trying to enter Europe. Many are asylum seekers and refugees fleeing conflict, persecution and violence but the majority are economic migrants for whom said a UNITED spokesperson: “ leaving their homes, families and lives, perhaps forever, is never an easy choice, but often a necessary one. It is an act of survival for the migrants' families, a great sacrifice with unknown rewards or failures. People are prepared to risk their lives because it represents a chance of a better future. Failure is not an option, and governments, despite all their efforts, will not be able to stop them.”

This being the case she felt that it was inevitable that the list of deaths would continue to grow until public pressure was large enough to force politicians to rethink European Immigration policies. Sadly, especially in a week when we  discover that Barnardos are willing to assist with the incarceration of children whilst the UK Border Agency arranges to deport them and their parents, that looks a long time away.

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