This was the shocking picture on the front page of yesterday’s ‘Independent’, showing African migrants clinging to tuna nets after the sinking of their boat. They spent many hours in the water while officials of the Maltese and Libyan governments argued about who should rescue them. They were eventually picked up by a vessel of the Italian navy, which delivered them to Malta. The Independent’s leader column hit the nail squarely on the head:
It ought to inspire shame throughout Europe that dozens of African immigrants spent an entire night in the open sea while Maltese and Libyan officials, aware of their plight, argued over whose responsibility they were.
It may not. Even the most powerful images of stranded or dead illegal migrants seem to have lost the power to shock. People in the Canary Islands, or on Lampedusa, off Sicily, have become depressingly inured to the sight of the bloated corpses of sub-Saharan Africans washed up on their shores.
The consensus is that at least 6,000 have perished in the past few years, trying to cross the Mediterranean. This is only the number of bodies reported found; it does not cover thousands more who have gone missing.
It would be convenient but pointless to blame Malta or Italy for this situation, however badly the Maltese have behaved over the latest case. Europe as a whole has handled growing south-north migration in a feeble, cowardly manner, and the main strategy of each country has been to pass the buck to another.
Those of us who call ourselves Christian perhaps need to be reminded that providing shelter for the homeless and alien is a Biblical imperative.