Last week, the bodies of 26 Nigerian girls, aged between 14 and 18, were found floating in the Mediterranean Sea. Autopsies of the bodies confirmed that they drowned while attempting the dangerous and all too often deadly crossing from Africa into Europe. Theirs is a story that’s all too familiar: rather than being treated as murder at the hands of xenophobic, militaristic, nativist states, the deaths of migrants, Black people, and girls are all too often erased and ignored. Their names unknown, their lives cut short, these girls’ deaths are a deliberate attempt by the state to deter migrants, by any means necessary.
The girls’ bodies were retrieved by a boat carrying 375 other rescued migrants, most of them from sub-Saharan Africa. It is likely that the girls were traveling by way of “people-smuggling gangs,” which charge each migrant about $6,000 to get to Italy ($4,000 of which is for the trans-Saharan journey to Libya). Not only do migrants have to endure the days-long desert crossing into Libya and the risky trip to Italy’s shores on inflatable dinghies, many report experiencing violence, sexual abuse, and torture at the hands of the gangs, which is not unlike the experiences of migrants who cross the Mexico-U.S. border. As The Guardian reports, nearly all the people rescued in the Mediterranean have been “exposed to an alarming level of violence and exploitation: kidnap for ransom, forced labor, sexual violence and enforced prostitution, being kept in captivity or detained arbitrarily.”
The deaths of these 26 girls is tragic, but it is not uncommon. In fact, just this week, a German newspaper published a list of 33,293 people who died trying to immigrate to Europe between 1993 and May of this year. The vast majority of the people on list drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. These mass deaths — again, 33,293 people in 24 years (not counting missing or disappeared bodies) — are not pure happenstance. They should be seen as a systematic and state-sponsored attempt to control and limit human movement. By increasing border enforcement and tightening up immigration restrictions, governments create these tragedies. Legislators weaponize nature, turning deserts, seas, and storms into tools for immigration enforcement and death. Governments have little regard for the safety or rights of migrants. By closing off their borders and pushing migrants into hostile terrains and treacherous areas, states aim to deter migrants through violence, suffering, and death. The Mediterranean might have drowned these girls, but it is the policies of countries in the Global North that committed the murders.
These deaths are not only a European or African issue. They are directly related to our own immigration policy. Trump’s Muslim Ban just went into partial effect, banning travelers and migrants from Syria, Iran, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and Chad–countries that have largely been over-exploited and terrorized by U.S. security efforts and missions. Our climate policy is also tied to migration; sub-Saharan Africa is one of the most refugee-producing regions of the world, and that will only increase as climate change continues to jeopardize food security. Meanwhile, the Trump administration continues to ignore climate change and even tried promoting fossil fuels at the climate talks this week. This is not a regional issue. U.S. polices contribute to mass migrations of people from the Global South, global refugee crises, and deaths at borders across the world.
As long as the United States and other countries continue to implement domestic and international policies that threaten the lives and livelihoods of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities, death tolls in the Mediterranean and the Sahara Desert will continue to rise. There will continue to be missing Black children, drowned migrants, abused girls, and forgotten people. That should outrage you and stir you to action.
Header image via NBC.
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