Photo story: Eritrean migrants

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PHOTO STORY: Eritrean migrants

Tim Baster and Isabelle Merminod took photos of the survivors of the Lampedusa tragedy.

On 3 October, a boat sank near the Italian island of Lampedusa. At about 3am about 550 people, mostly Eritreans, tried to survive in the sea. About 370 bodies have now been found. 156 people survived.

About 16,000 people died on the EU border between 1998 and 2012 (according to UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, François Crépeau).

But EU politicians want to add more border control. Maybe they think more security will stop people escaping from terrible lives?


Above: Italian politicians talked about national funerals and giving the people citizenship after their deaths. But two weeks later, there is only silence. This photo shows the coffins coming onto the Italian ship, the Libra, in Lampedusa, before going to Sicily. Many bodies have not been identified.


Above: International journalists talked to survivors about the sinking of their old boat that sailed from Libya. Some people had spent two months in a Libyan safe house waiting for the boat to leave for Italy. They lost friends and relatives. They knew the children. 370 people died; 156 have to continue to live.


Above: Relatives, mostly from Europe, come to identify their family and friends. They spend hours in the Italian military police office looking at hundreds of photos of bodies or photos of objects and jewellery. Some people found a coffin to say goodbye to their loved one.


Above: The children’s coffins are carried to the naval vessel by survivors. Soldiers and police stand in an honour guard. The children came in a dangerous boat with no navigation instruments.


Above: After spending some time by a coffin, an Eritrean relative is very sad. Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta has said that the victims are now ‘Italian citizens’. But if EU immigration policies were based on human rights, not hatred of foreigners, maybe these 370 people would not have taken a dangerous boat to arrive in Italy. They might still be alive.


Above: The white coffins for the eight children found near Lampedusa are brought back together with the other coffins and will be taken to Sicily. A teddy bear – a gift from Italian children – was put on top of each coffin.


Above: Christians and Muslims pray together, to think about and say goodbye to the dead before the boat goes to Sicily. Relatives and survivors do not know where the bodies will go next.* The Eritrean government has asked them to send the bodies back to Eritrea.


Above: These migrants are not the first to die near Lampedusa. They will probably not be the last. In April, François Crépeau (the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants), criticised the border control policies of the European Union. He said the politics makes irregular migration a ‘security problem.’

He believes that it is bad to try to stop irregular migration. It makes migrants rely on smugglers and gives power to bad groups who make money from this. It creates alienation and marginalization and does not support human rights.

Will European leaders listen?

*We now know that the bodies are being buried in cemeteries in Sicily.

All photographs are the copyright of Tim Baster and Isabelle Merminod.

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