Sometimes words fail. And that’s why there’s really no way to articulate the monstrous tragedy that has spilled all over the Mediterranean coast. Thousands upon thousands have been thronging toward the Mediterranean shoreline, seeking a “gateway to a better life” through liminal ports mainly in Italy. European leaders have so far failed utterly to develop a comprehensive system for search and rescue operations, and have cutback resources for humanitarian missions. That leaves European Union border patrol authorities to limit their missions to essentially doing the very least possible to help refugees seeking safer shores and asylum.
Leaving rescue operations mainly to private charitable efforts, the official response seems focused on just tamping down the embarrassment that is quickly mounting as corpses and coffins pile up at the gates of “Fortress Europe.”
Sometimes the numbers speak for themselves. Since the start of 2015, the United Nations estimates, “As many as 900″ migrants may have perished seeking passage to Europe — a shocking 50-fold increase in deaths.
But even the death toll doesn’t quite capture it: Amnesty International reported on April 15 that Italian coastguard authorities had since Saturday rescued close to ten thousand.
And yet EU leaders — embroiled in debates over fiscal austerity and often discussing immigration only in the context of ramping up border enforcement (a familiar refrain for those watching migrant death tolls in the southwestern desert of the United States) — have acted completely unconcerned about the humanitarian crisis unfolding at Europe’s doorstep.
Children have died as well as parents. There have been no words for the souls of loved ones lost at sea, sometimes not even a proper burial, just screams of grief, maybe flowery garlands bobbing on the waves.
Many of those mourning are refugees. No words, just another wall of silence stacked on top of the detritus of war, with more barriers to come in the form of hostile immigration bureaucracies, detention centers, language divides, and court battles. Their stories will disappear too, vanishing into a sea of litigation and paperwork.
And all of those who survive have no words to celebrate their “fortune,” because they remain displaced, neglected, and forgotten.
According to Amnesty International’s Gauri Van Gulik, “Europe has scaled back search-and-rescue capacity based on the flawed argument that such operations were acting as a ‘pull factor’, attracting more migrants. But the reality in the Mediterranean is exposing that fallacy, since the numbers of desperate people seeking to make it to Europe are only going up.”
So body count rises as boats sink and hopes flag. At some point, there is a sense that words will no longer suffice, when so many voices are drowned out by the wail of a vicious ocean, and the eerie tranquility of official oblivion.