Deaths in the Mediterranean: Wars, Weapons, and Migrations

by Salvatore (Turi) Palidda*

Migrants arriving on the island of Lampedusa, Italy, in August 2007. Photo by Sara Prestianni. From Noborder Network on Flickr.

Migrants arriving on the island of Lampedusa, Italy, in August 2007. Photo by Sara Prestianni. From Noborder Network on Flickr.

The drowning of 700 (and maybe as many as 900) migrants in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea on April 17, 2015, should be seen as a direct consequence of two major facts: the multiplication of wars and the prohibition of migrations. The mainstream media is once again crying crocodile tears and displaying hypocrisy, dishonesty, and even complacency: to them, this tragedy is just another massive distraction to conceal the real causes of these massacres and provide cover for those who are responsible for them.

Especially since 1990, most global migrants have been fleeing wars, or the direct and indirect consequences of these conflicts. This is true for Palestinians, Rwandans, Sudanese, Eritreans, Congolese, Kurds, and Syrians, as well as people from the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan, sub-Saharan Africa, and other war zones that the media rarely mention. The proliferation of wars since 1945 is primarily due to the ongoing increase in the production and legal and illegal trade in weapons by the major world powers and their allies. It is well known, for example, that the weapons and the money amassed by isis come mainly from the Emirates allied with the United States, Russia, or China. For years now, the largest annual weapons fair (the Special Operation Forces Exhibition and Conference, SOFEX) has taken place in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). About 600 representatives of major industries attended the latest one, held on February 22–26, 2015, at Abu Dhabi; participants included ministers, diplomats, police chiefs, and corporate CEOs from the represented countries (see link; see also video of the previous SOFEX).

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has reported a significant increase in the production and export of arms, particularly since 2005 (source); the leading exporting countries are the United States, Russia, Germany, China, France, and Italy (which often operates in joint ventures with US companies or as a subcontractor). The top five countries together comprise 74 percent of the volume of world exports; the United States and Russia alone control 56 percent of the market. The main importing countries are India, Saudi Arabia, China, the UAE, and Pakistan.

Especially in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, financial, military, and police lobbies, both national and transnational, have systematically exacerbated international crisis scenarios and constructed suitable enemies to justify permanent or infinite war (as G.W. Bush, Jr., blatantly called it). After Al Qaeda, Isis has emerged as an even more terrifying enemy, one apparently uncontrollable by the great world powers and their Arab allies. The situation in Iraq, Libya, and elsewhere has spun out of control, too. A strategy of endless war—what Jonathan Simon refers to as “governing through terror”—benefits from these developments. Ending this situation does not serve the interests of countries producing and exporting weapons; many may decry such wars, even the pope. Left unsaid is that responsibility lies upstream and resides with those profiting from war and maintaining or increasing their dominance thanks to it (e.g., banks, including the Vatican’s).

Escaping the war, even at the cost of risking one’s life, is the only possibility left to those who have the strength, ability, and money to flee. Many unscrupulous individuals seek to take advantage of this need. Those involved in the smuggling of migrants can conduct this criminal business solely because a prohibitionist regime of migration control exists. If help were available to those seeking to escape with their lives, using, for example, humanitarian corridors and regular access to countries not at war, traffickers could not profit from their desperation. The “naval blockade” off Libya’s coast proposed by some Italian lawmakers, beyond being senseless from a legal and technical standpoint, is worthy of twenty-first-century neo-Nazis.

The United Nations should compel the United States, the European Union, and Russia, as well as China, Japan, and other countries that are directly or indirectly responsible for today’s wars and desperate migrations, to assist migrants and provide regular access to their territories. That was the case with people fleeing from Southeast Asia in the 1970s as a result of the war in Vietnam and Laos, and the massacres of Pol Pot in Cambodia. However, the protectionist and prohibitionist logic that prevails in the European Union prevents the European countries from taking such an initiative—instead feeding racism and signifying the economic decline and political irrelevancy of the region.

Conversely, the United States has cynically relied upon regular and irregular migration to fuel its economic success from 1970 to 2007, and even during its recovery from the latest crisis. Since 1990, the US population has increased by almost 70 million. At the same time, the United States has received more than 13 million undocumented immigrants; every year 400,000 to one million of them have been expelled; and an estimated 18,500 were killed in 1998–2013 by border police, vigilantes, and criminals enjoying the manhunt. Thanks to regular and irregular immigration, the United States has become the first economic, military, and political power in the world; racist theories à la Huntington fit perfectly in this game between inclusion and rejection, so that immigrants are forced to earn their new life through humiliation, sacrifice, and hard labor, all to the benefit of the receiving country.

In contrast, Europe’s rigid prohibitionist immigration regime turns all migrants into illegal aliens to be used as neo-slaves in the shadow economy. It results in a higher death toll among migrants trying to reach the EU, fewer naturalizations, fewer regularizations, and more precarious living conditions. Across EU-27 (the 27 countries comprising the European Union, with 505 million legal residents), there were fewer total immigrants in 2012 than was the case in the United States—21 million according to Eurostat—and since 1990 there have been fewer naturalizations. Another 33 million European residents were born in a country outside the EU-27. It is estimated that five million illegal immigrants reside in Europe.

Besides the major differences between Europe and the United States in terms of social policies (starting with welfare), the United States controls immigration through a mix of softer practices and violent and racist forms of selection. Europe appears as an aborted political entity, a boorish continent ready to enslave a few passersby and erect new fortifications. This approach to a globalized world is suicidal, especially when wealthy emerging countries are scrambling to acquire the assets of a bankrupt and decadent continent.

* Salvatore Palidda, born in Sicily to a US citizen (his father emigrated to the United States in 1922), has lived and worked in Milan, Germany, and in Paris, where he has earned his PhD and started his academic career at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales. Today he is a professor in the Department of Education, University of Genoa, Italy. His research focuses on the military, the police, and national and international migrations. Among his publications are Governance of Security and Ignored Insecurities in Contemporary Europe (Ashgate 2015, forthcoming); Racial Criminalization of Migrants in the 21st Century (Ashgate 2011); and Conflict, Security and the Reshaping of Society: The Civilisation of War (Routledge 2010, with Alessandro Dal Lago).

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Salvatore Palidda, “Deaths in the Mediterranean: Wars, Weapons, and Migrations.” Social Justice blog, 4/27/2015. © Social Justice 2015.

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