Laura Ribera and Ibrahima Dabo
The situation in the Mediterranean is critical. European governments tell us that it is critical for security reasons.
Their logic, and that of the European Union (EU), is that borders need protecting, to keep out “outsiders”. Meanwhile, NGOs, citizens’ movements and part of public opinion maintain that the situation is critical for humanitarian reasons and because of the large number of people who die in the crossing.
We’ve read about Matteo Salvini closing off Italy’s ports to people rescued in international waters, about different European countries’ refusal to allow specialised rescue workers to give assistance at sea or that Libya is considered a safe country for the return of migrants. Such headlines appear in the mainstream media, with no deeper explanation.
And what has happened in the Spanish state over the last year? Many people had hopes with the change of government last June 2018. Nothing further from the truth; Pedro Sánchez has repeatedly disappointed those who expected improvements.
In January 2019, the government imposed an “information blackout” — the expression used by various organisations and media outlets — on the rescue and arrival of refugee boats. Prior to the blackout, the public could obtain information through social networks to know when Maritime Rescue was carrying out a rescue, of how many people and in what port they were going to disembark.
That way we could know if people were missing or if someone had died on the crossing. In another change, the government created a single operational command to coordinate actions to “confront irregular immigration”, as they put it, in the straits of Gibraltar area and the western Mediterranean.
When at the beginning of the year the PSOE was faced with the prospect of having to call elections, we began to note a reduction in arrivals by sea of migrants to the Spanish State. While the weather and the sea conditions were factors in the fall, they were only part of the explanation.
Coinciding with the visit of Spanish King Felipe VI to the Moroccan capital, Rabat, maritime arrivals fell in early February. Meanwhile, those few crossings that occurred took place in dangerous conditions, considerably increasing the number of deaths in this region compared to previous years. The pressure from the EU — instigated by the Spanish State — pushed the Moroccan authorities to increase repression against migrants. Activists and NGOs in the field speak of mass detentions and expulsions of migrants — to southern Morocco or to their countries of origin.
Little remains of those photos of the Sánchez government with the Open Arms rescue ship or of their speeches about welcoming refugees.
Given this situation we have to value the daily struggles of so many people around the Spanish state that work for a coordinated and united response. Because in the face of all this, our best antidote is our unity.