The plight of underage, undocumented children in U.S. Immigration custody

Pacific Standard reports: In July 2010, Susan J. Terrio, an anthropologist at Georgetown University, visited an immigration shelter in Southern California. The shelter’s staff were discussing the case of a 17-year-old Somali girl, Hanadi, who had been in their custody for seven months. In Somalia, Hanadi’s father had been killed by militants, and her brother had disappeared, likely a victim of fighters from Al Shabab. As a young teen, Hanadi fled to Kenya, and, eventually, with the help of a smuggler, to Panama. Immigration authorities in Panama detained her for six months, after which she traveled to the United States, where she was detained again by U.S. immigration authorities.

At the time of Terrio’s visit, Hanadi had begun to show signs of “mental deterioration”: She cursed at another detainee, pounded on tables, and in one instance threatened suicide. The shelter’s staff believed she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and recommended that she take psychiatric medication, which she refused. They also suggested that Hanadi be transferred to a more sophisticated residential treatment center. Terrio had visited a similar center earlier that year, where she met heavily sedated detainees who were suffering from severe depression, schizophrenia, and other disorders.

Most immigration shelters fall on a spectrum between locked houses and prisons, and children like Hanadi are not free to leave. Hanadi wanted to stay with a cousin in the U.S. but had been unable to find him. Although she was a good candidate for a claim of political asylum, the government was entitled to hold her, with a few restrictions, until her case was resolved—simply because she was a minor. After the meeting, Terrio listened while Hanadi and a staff member discussed the idea of moving to a group home. Hanadi, Terrio writes in her new book Whose Child Am I?, “began to sob”:

I don’t want group home. I want freedom. Not fair. Two years. I have no life. In Somalia good life. Now not better life. Said what I wanted. Said I don’t want to be here. They say, “Be patient.” Why? They think if send me to another house, then OK. NOT OK. … I’m not crazy. I just want freedom.

Several days later, Hanadi was transferred to a therapeutic shelter, after which Terrio lost track of her. [Continue reading…]


Myanmar to bar Rohingya from fleeing, but won’t address their plight

The New York Times reports: The government of Myanmar says it is determined to stop the departures of migrants fleeing religious persecution in places like this bitterly divided port city, but it will not budge in its refusal to address the conditions driving the exodus across the sea.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic group, fled the country in recent months, setting off a regional crisis when boatloads of migrants were abandoned at sea or abused and held for ransom by traffickers.

But the government insists that most of the migrants do not belong in Myanmar, referring to them as Bengalis, and says it has no plans to alter policies that strip them of basic rights and confine more than 140,000 to a crowded, squalid government camp here.

“There is no change in the government’s policy toward the Bengalis,” U Zaw Htay, a deputy director general of the Myanmar president’s office, said in an interview this week.

Under international pressure, as crowded vessels baked and bobbed in the ocean for days with no country willing to take them in, regional leaders met in Bangkok last month, and the immediate crisis was relieved when the migrants were granted temporary refuge.

But any hope that Myanmar might have been persuaded to soften its position was quickly dispelled.

When a government delegation returned from the talks, the state news media hailed the officials as managing “to refute accusations that the boat people were from Myanmar.”

And those people, despite the reports of horror stories at sea, are no less desperate to leave. [Continue reading…]


Half a million refugees gather in Libya to attempt perilous crossing to Europe

The Guardian reports: Up to half a million refugees are gathering in Libya to attempt the crossing to Europe on the deadly boats that have killed thousands already.

The toll of misery was revealed by senior Royal Navy officers leading Britain’s Mediterranean rescue mission off the Libyan coast. Britain’s amphibious assault ship HMS Bulwark has helped save around 4,000 refugees before they drowned having set sail in unseaworthy boats.

The ship’s 350-strong company of sailors and Royal Marines is bracing itself to rescue a further 3,000. Captain Nick Cooke-Priest said: “Indications are that there are 450,000 to 500,000 migrants in Libya who are waiting at the border.” [Continue reading…]


The Rohingya crisis is not an isolated tragedy – it’s the shape of things to come

Tahmima Anam writes: In 1971 Ravi Shankar and George Harrison organised a concert in New York City’s Madison Square Gardens to fund relief efforts for war-torn Bangladesh. The album featured the image of a starving child on the cover, which became a symbol of an impoverished country emerging out of the rubble of war. Forty-four years later, another image is now associated with Bangladesh: that of the abandoned refugees who float on the Andaman Sea with no hope of rescue.

We’ve all seen the photographs of these refugees. We’ve seen them hanging their emaciated limbs off the sides of their boats. We’ve seen the scars on their backs,earned in fights over scarce food and water. We’ve read their harrowing stories of their being abandoned at sea, rejected by one government after another.

It is estimated that up to 8,000 refugees are marooned in the sea between Bangladesh and Malaysia. Most of them come from Rakhine state, in Burma, where as members of the Rohingya community they are denied the basic rights of citizenship. The rest are economic migrants from Bangladesh. [Continue reading…]


Outcast: Adrift with Burma’s Rohingya

Jason Motlagh writes: In June 2012, mobs of ethnic Rakhine Buddhists tore through Rohingya Muslim neighbourhoods in the coastal town of Sittwe, attacking anyone in their path. Mohammad Idriss, a member of the persecuted minority, took refuge with relatives indoors. In a moment of panic, his younger brother made the mistake of jumping from a window, only to be caught and beaten to death with sticks and iron rods.

Idriss says that a neighbour dealt the first blow to the head. “All victims deserve justice, but I don’t think it will be possible even in a decade,” he says, reflecting on the massacre that night. “Our situation is hopeless.”

The killings were part of a gathering wave of sectarian violence that has spread to other parts of the country, amid accusations that security forces have turned a blind eye to bloodshed. Two years on, Idriss and most of the 140,000 Rohingya uprooted from their ancestral homes live in what have been likened to concentration camps, trapped between armed guards and the sea. Burma’s government insists it is for their own protection, but aid groups have been kicked out, and food and medical supplies are limited, resulting in a surge of deaths from treatable illnesses. [Continue reading…]


Israeli government to refugees: Go back to Africa or go to prison

The Washington Post reports: As Europe struggles to stem a spring flood of migrants from Africa and the Middle East trying to cross a deadly Mediterranean Sea, Israel has begun to toughen its stance toward refugees, telling unwanted Africans here they must leave now or face an indefinite stay in prison.

Israeli authorities are sending letters to the first of 45,000 Eritrean and Sudanese refugees, informing them they have 30 days to accept Israel’s offer of $3,500 in cash and a one-way ticket home or to an unnamed third country in Africa, or face incarceration at Saharonim prison.

Israeli leaders have proclaimed that their tough approach — building a fence along the country’s border, denying work permits for illegal migrants, forcing them into a detention center in the desert — may ultimately save lives by dissuading migrants from attempting a perilous journey. Critics of the Israeli policy counter that a country built by refugees should be more accepting of those fleeing war, poverty and oppression. [Continue reading…]


How chaos in Libya spawned a security nightmare in the Mediterranean

By Ioannis Chapsos, Coventry University

Libya has been in a state of chaos ever since the fall of its former dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, and the situation scarcely seems to be improving. But it’s not just a nightmare on land – Libya is starting to poison the Mediterranean too.

Since a civil war and UN-backed external intervention put an end to Colonel Gaddafi’s regime in 2011, good order and security have never been restored. Libya remains divided, with continuous clashes between rival militia and two internal “governments”.

The attack against the US Consulate in Benghazi was just one incident in a spiral of unrest.

Italian naval forces are back to conducting search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean on a daily basis in order to cope with a massive surge in migrants trying to cross the sea from North Africa, where Libya is the primary transit point. Thousands have died in recent months alone.

But on April 17, they had a very different task: a Sicilian fishing boat had been seized by armed men, 50 nautical miles north of the Libyan Coast, forcing the Italian Navy to board and retake control of the vessel.

And on top of the nascent piracy problem, Libya’s efforts to police its coast are apparently getting more violent.

[Read more…]


The art of refugees

Gregory Beals writes: There is a nation of the dispossessed. The inhabitants are both exiled and among us, in temporary cities on others’ lands, and in our cities living in shadows. Their common national traits are fear, uncertainty, seemingly permanent impermanence. Taken collectively these individuals, families and communities who live as refugees or internally displaced people number more than 51.5 million. If they gathered together and were recognized by the world, they would represent the 25th largest nation on Earth.

The Venice Biennale, opening this weekend, celebrates the art of other nations in the most stunning and remarkable way imaginable. And yet it is important also to focus attention on the living creativity of those who represent the failure of nations, the failure of politics and the failure of diplomacy.

The citizens of Nation25 perish invisibly on the high seas. They live for years, sometimes decades in refugee camps, often with very little hope of returning home. They arrive from unspeakable landscapes of violence. The nature and scope of this violence is akin to a cancer that is metastasizing. The conditions they endure test the limits of human understanding. Their lives matter.

Why should we be concerned about art as it relates to refugees and migrants? Because their history and experience always seems to exist as a kind of world beneath the world. That is to say, people who endure war and deprivation often have an understanding of events that contrasts dramatically with mediated and sometimes sanitized versions of the past. It means having the ability to render a story or a gesture that would otherwise be hidden. It means discovering ways to address a hemorrhage in society that goes beyond the ephemeral nature of our news cycle. [Continue reading…]


2.2 million Iraqis displaced by ISIS

The Associated Press: Conflicts and violence worldwide displaced a record 38 million people in 2014, with 2.2 million Iraqis alone forced to flee the Islamic State group, a Norwegian humanitarian group report released Wednesday revealed.

The findings of the study carried out by the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Center are endorsed by the United Nations refugee agency.

In a joint statement, they said 11 million were newly displaced last year — mostly because of conflicts in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. That’s the equivalent of 30,000 people each day.


A record 38 million internally displaced worldwide as 30,000 people fled their homes each day in 2014

Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre: A record-breaking 38 million people have been displaced within their own country by conflict or violence. This is the equivalent of the total populations of London, New York and Beijing combined. “These are the worst figures for forced displacement in a generation, signalling our complete failure to protect innocent civilians” said Jan Egeland, secretary general at the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).

Today, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), part of NRC, launched its Global Overview 2015: People internally displaced by conflict and violence at the United Nations in Geneva. With internal displacement figures reaching a record high for the third year in a row, the report also documents how 11 million people were newly displaced by violent events in 2014 alone.

“Global diplomats, UN resolutions, peace talks and ceasefire agreements have lost the battle against ruthless armed men who are driven by political or religious interests rather than human imperatives,” said Egeland. “This report should be a tremendous wake-up call. We must break this trend where millions of men, women and children are becoming trapped in conflict zones around the world.”

Volker Türk, UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, said that the staggering number of internally displaced people because of conflict and violence is a harbinger of movements to come. “We know that more and more internally displaced have been forced to move within their country multiple times. The longer a conflict lasts, the more insecure they feel and when hopelessness sets in, many will cross borders and become refugees,” he said.

“As we have seen in the recent past, for example in the Mediterranean, despair drives people to take their chances and even risk dangerous boat journeys. The obvious solution lies in an all-out effort to bring about peace in war-ravaged countries,” Mr Türk added.

The report also highlights how long-lasting, or protracted displacement, contributes to this alarmingly high global total. In 2014, there were people living in displacement for ten years or more in nearly 90% of the 60 countries and territories IDMC monitored.

“As new or renewed crises emerge in countries such as Ukraine or Iraq, new caseloads of internally displaced people join an already massive global displaced population who seem blocked from finding ways of ending their displacement” said Alfredo Zamudio, director of IDMC.

The IDMC report also describes how displacement often reveals underlying structural challenges within a country, and how it can be prolonged by a government’s deliberate politicisation of the issue or its refusal to enter into a formal resolution of a crisis.

“38 million human beings are suffering – often in horrendous conditions where they have no hope and no future—and unless we challenge ourselves to change our approach, the shockwaves of these conflicts will continue to haunt us for decades to come,” said Egeland.


3,500 Palestinian children stranded in Yarmouk, Damascus

Anadolu Agency: Over 3,500 Palestinian children are stranded in Syria’s flashpoint Yarmouk camp for Palestinian refugees, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) has said.

“There are some 3,500 children stranded in the camp, while the sick and the elderly continue to die from lack of medical care,” UNRWA spokesman Sami Mshasha said during a Sunday press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Mshasha said that some 90 percent of Yarmouk’s 180,000 Palestinian residents have fled the camp – which continues to see violent clashes between Daesh militants and Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis militant group for over a month.

Moreover, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime forces routinely drop barrel bombs on the beleaguered camp, according to the UNRWA.


EU policies worsen an already deadly situation for immigrants

Der Spiegel reports: The images and words are so very similar. Back then, the German chancellor said she was “deeply upset” — today she is “appalled.” Back then, the president of the European Commission said he would never forget the dead, and that something had to change — today he claims: “The status quo is not an option.” Back then, Europe’s interior ministers spoke of a horrific event — today it’s an “utter horror.'” The gap between then and now is 19 months. And several thousands of dead in the Mediterranean.

Then was the night of Oct. 3, 2013. A fire broke out on an old cutter that had set out from the Libyan city of Misrata. Near the small Italian island of Lampedusa, more than 500 people went overboard, most of them from Somalia or Eritrea. Not even one-third survived. The coffins in Lampedusa’s airport hangar became a symbol for Europe’s “shame,” as Pope Francis put it.

At a meeting in Luxembourg held after the disaster, EU interior ministers spoke of a “wake-up call” and immediately established a working group. European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström argued that Lampedusa was an “image of the Union that we do not want.” In Berlin, the German government declared that “given a human catastrophe of this size,” it was self-evident that current refugee policies should reexamined. Shortly thereafter, German Chancellor Angela Merkel traveled to a summit of EU heads of government in Brussels, where “decisive measures” were promised to avoid a repeat of the catastrophe.

And then? Then the catastrophe repeated itself. A dozen times. Between then and now. In the space of a few days in April, 400 people traveling from Africa to Europe drowned in the Mediterranean, then a boat with over 800 refugees capsized — and only 28 survived.

Interior and foreign ministers of the EU member states met once again in Luxembourg this week. But they didn’t create a new working group — after all, they already have one. The president of the European Council convened a special summit that met on Thursday. In Berlin, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière promised that, given recent events, the EU couldn’t simply return to the regular order of business.

The words and images are so very similar. And if you listen to what people are saying, you could be excused for thinking there was no “then.”

Wars, famines, poverty, unscrupulous human traffickers and borders on lock-down — the refugee drama has many sides. It’s not easy to determine who is responsible for the death of so many people and who carries what share of the blame. But any investigation would lead to the capital cities of Europe.

There’s plenty of blame to go around here. People are in dire need, but politicians are instead pulling the brakes on effective measures to help them or, worse, are involved in political deal-making at their expense. Borders have been drawn firmer than ever. And even initiatives with the best intentions have been allowed to peter out. At times it feels as though European governments have simply accepted the fact that Lampedusa will be repeated.

Through their reporting in Brussels and Berlin, the analysis of internal transcripts and interviews with diplomats and government representatives, SPIEGEL’s journalists reconstructed a timeline of policy developments dating from the 2013 Lampedusa tragedy to the most recent catastrophe. [Continue reading…]


Mediterranean migrant crisis: Why is no one talking about Eritrea?

Sinéad O’Shea writes: Horror has been expressed at the latest catastrophe in the Mediterranean. Little has been said, however, about Eritrea. Yet 22% of all people entering Italy by boat in 2014 were from Eritrea, according to the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR. After Syrians, they are the second most common nationality to undertake these journeys. Many who died this week were from the former Italian colony.

So why is it so rarely discussed? The answer is essentially the problem. Eritrea is without western allies and far away. It is also in the grip of a highly repressive regime. This week, it was named the most censored country in the world by the Committee to Protect Journalists, beating North Korea, which is in second place. Reporters without Borders has called it the world’s most dangerous country for journalists.

Nobody talks about Eritrea because nobody (ie westerners) goes there. In 2009, I travelled there undercover with cameraman Scott Corben. We remain the only independent journalists to have visited in more than 10 years. There we witnessed a system that was exerting total control over its citizens. It was difficult to engage anybody in conversation. Everyone believed they were under surveillance, creating a state of constant anxiety. Communications were tightly controlled. Just three roads were in use and extensive documentation was required to travel. There were constant military checks. It is one of the most expensive countries in the world to buy petrol. Even maps are largely prohibited. At the time, Eritreans had to seek permission from a committee to obtain a mobile phone. [Continue reading…]


Charlie Hebdo didn’t publish that Mediterranean drowning cartoon — and it isn’t racist

Satire always takes the risk of being misinterpreted. Some publishers try to minimize that risk by alerting the reader, avoiding surprise, but usually burying the joke in the process.

When Ali Dilem drew a cartoon published by Liberte in Algeria, depicting African migrants drowning in the Mediterranean, he was referring to France’s immigration policy for non-EU residents, called “regroupement familial,” which arguably has done less to reunify families than see them broken apart. (H/t to Homo economicus for the explanation.)

Unfortunately, the cartoon has now taken on a life of its own on Twitter where it is being portrayed as a flagrant expression of racism by the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo:


Our war never ended

Viet Thanh Nguyen writes: Thursday, the last day of April, is the 40th anniversary of the end of my war. Americans call it the Vietnam War, and the victorious Vietnamese call it the American War. In fact, both of these names are misnomers, since the war was also fought, to great devastation, in Laos and Cambodia, a fact that Americans and Vietnamese would both rather forget.

In any case, for anyone who has lived through a war, that war needs no name. It is always and only “the war,” which is what my family and I call it. Anniversaries are the time for war stories to be told, and the stories of my family and other refugees are war stories, too. This is important, for when Americans think of war, they tend to think of men fighting “over there.” The tendency to separate war stories from immigrant stories means that most Americans don’t understand how many of the immigrants and refugees in the United States have fled from wars — many of which this country has had a hand in.

Although my family and other refugees brought our war stories with us to America, they remain largely unheard and unread, except by people like us. Compared with many of the four million Vietnamese in the diaspora, my family has been lucky. None of my relatives can be counted among the three million who died during the war, or the hundreds of thousands who disappeared at sea trying to escape by boat. But our experiences in coming to America were difficult.

When I first came to this country, at age 4, I was taken from my parents and put into a household of American strangers who were supposed to care for me while my parents got on their feet. I remember a small apartment, or maybe a mobile home, and a young couple who did not know what to do with me. I was sent on to a bigger house, a family with children, who asked me how to use chopsticks. I’m sure they meant to be welcoming, but I was perplexed and disappointed in myself for not knowing how to use them.

As for Vietnam, it is both familiar and strange. I heard much about it as I grew up in San Jose, Calif., in a Vietnamese enclave where I ate Vietnamese food, went to a Vietnamese church, studied the Vietnamese language, and heard Vietnamese stories, which were always about loss and pain. My parents and everyone I knew had lost homes, wealth, relatives, country and peace of mind. Letters and photographs in Par Avion envelopes, trimmed in red and blue, would arrive bearing words of poverty and hunger and despair. My parents had left behind my older, adopted sister, whom I knew only through one black-and-white photograph, a beautiful girl with a lonely expression. I didn’t remember her at all. I didn’t remember the grandparents who passed away one by one, two of whom I never met because they had stayed in the north while my parents had fled to the south as teenagers in 1954. [Continue reading…]


The EU should stop treating migrants as criminals

Kenan Malik writes: For more than three decades, the European Union has been constructing what critics call “Fortress Europe,” a cordon protected by sea, air and land patrols, and a high-tech surveillance system of satellites and drones. When a journalist from Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine visited the control room of Frontex, the European border agency, he observed that the language used was that of “defending Europe against an enemy.”

The decision last year to scrap Mare Nostrum, the Italian-run search-and-rescue program, highlights this strategy. Mare Nostrum was replaced by Operation Triton, smaller in scope and with an entirely different aim — not saving lives but surveillance and border protection. The number of migrants now attempting to reach Europe is little different from that for the same period last year, yet the death toll is about 18 times higher.

When the European Union treats immigration as a problem of criminality, it is not just the traffickers who are targets. In 2004, a German ship rescued 37 African refugees from a dinghy. When the ship entered a Sicilian port, it was seized by the authorities who charged the captain and first officer with aiding illegal immigration. They were acquitted only after a five-year court battle.

Similarly, in 2007, the Italian authorities tried to block two Tunisian fishing boats that had rescued 44 stranded migrants from docking at Lampedusa, an island between Sicily and Tunisia. The captains were charged with assisting illegal immigration. Not until 2011 did an appeals court overturn all the convictions.

Such cases are not aberrations. Treating good Samaritans as common criminals is the inevitable consequence of the European Union’s immigration policy.

The third prong of the strategy is to outsource border controls by paying African states to detain potential migrants. The most notorious of these arrangements was with Libya. In 2010, a year before Britain and France launched airstrikes to help bring down Libya’s leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the European Union concluded a deal with him, agreeing to pay 50 million euros over three years to turn his security forces into de facto border police. Even before they gained power, the anti-Qaddafi rebels agreed to continue the arrangement.

The European Union has a similar deal with Morocco, and hopes to recruit Egypt and Tunisia, too. In effect, it aims to relocate Europe’s borders to North Africa.

The 10-point plan that the European authorities proposed Monday was in keeping with this failed approach. Most eye-catching was the promise to destroy smugglers’ boats. Not only is this morally dubious — effectively telling migrants “We will wall you into North Africa so that you’re not our problem” — but it also won’t work. One reason for the spike in migrant numbers is the collapse of state authority in the region. Western intervention in Libya exacerbated the chaos, which the proposed military action will only intensify.

At the same time, migrants are forced to clamber into overloaded, unseaworthy boats because other routes into Europe have been blocked off. Destroying smugglers’ boats will merely force people to adopt even more perilous means of making the journey.

So what is to be done? The restoration of a proper search-and-rescue operation is important but insufficient. The European Union should stop treating migrants as criminals, and border control as warfare. It must dismantle Fortress Europe, liberalize immigration policy and open up legal routes for migrants. Some argue this would lead to a flood of immigrants, but current policy is not preventing people from migrating; it is simply killing them, by the boatload. [Continue reading…]


Survivors tell of Syrian refugees’ desperate efforts to reach Europe

The Daily Beast reports: “It was pitch black. We were groping our way through the forest, hoping to hear water soon. I’d seen the maps and spoken to others who had done the journey before—I knew that once we reached the river, we would nearly be in Greece.”

This was no orienteering exercise. It was a long-awaited attempt to enter Europe.

In 2014, 23-year-old Yousef made the perilous overland journey from Turkey to Germany, fleeing Syria, where he had been imprisoned for organizing peaceful protests. Many people make this journey with the help of paid smugglers, but Yousef had spent the months beforehand poring over maps of Europe, filling his camera phone with screenshot aerial views of the terrain and learning village names by heart.

“I had no money. I couldn’t afford the smugglers’ fees, so I had to rely on myself for a lot of the journey,” he told The Daily Beast at his new home in central Germany. “I spoke to everyone I could to hear how they had done it, and studied really hard.”

At the Greek border, the waters of the Evros River that separates Greece from Turkey were flowing fast. “I’m a fairly good swimmer, but I still believed I’d be washed away. We waited until sunrise so we could see more clearly, and then I jumped in with a rope tied around me. I thought, ‘That’s it, Yousef, you’re going to drown here.’ But somehow I made it to the opposite bank and tied the rope to a tree so others could cross more easily.”

After less than half an hour, however, Yousef and his three other companions were caught by Greek police. Forced into a car, they were instantly returned to Turkey.

Today, over 3.8 million Syrians have fled the brutality of the Syrian war zone. Many have sought sanctuary in neighboring countries, but countless others are desperately attempting to reach European soil. With European Union states granting formal entry to only a handful of refugees (at 30,000, Germany has been by far the most “generous”) many have resorted to seeking asylum after illegal entry. Currently, the bulk of those attempting to reach Europe illegally are Syrians. [Continue reading…]


In the chaos of Libya the business of human trafficking has boomed

Ben Wedeman writes: We are at the beginning of a massive and mounting crisis with no solution in sight. Perhaps that’s incorrect. The migrant crisis that has suddenly drawn hundreds of journalists to Sicily has been brewing for years, but in the past 10 days, with as many as 1,600 deaths in the Mediterranean, suddenly minds are focused — for now.

Almost exactly four years ago, in Libya, I caught, perhaps, a glimpse of what was to come.

It was late at night in the besieged city of Misrata. Hundreds of African migrants were caught between the Libyan civil war (back then some optimistically called it a “revolution”) and the deep blue sea. They had come to Misrata from Ghana, Nigeria and elsewhere, hoping to board rickety boats to cross the sea to Europe.

They had been pinned down under sporadic shelling from government forces, but weren’t welcome by the rebels who controlled the city. They appealed to us to help them escape.

We could do nothing, but they may have eventually found their way out when the fighting subsided.

The fall of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s regime, which we reporters covered so avidly, was followed by chaos, which we in the news media largely neglected, focused as we journalists were on the next catastrophe, the Syrian civil war. In that chaos, the business of human trafficking has boomed.

And now that boom in human misery is coming in waves to the shores of Italy. The focus today is on those lost at sea. Aware of the tragedy underway, however, Italians are alarmed at the prospect that this year alone as many as a million migrants could arrive in Europe, according to one European Union official.

That is certainly the case in the Sicilian port of Catania, where many migrants arrive. The city’s mayor, Enzo Bianco, insists city residents bear no ill will toward the migrants, but says Catania, and Sicily cannot absorb the ever-growing numbers. The rest of Europe must help carry the burden. [Continue reading…]