“They are not shipwrecked, they are migrants”, says the prime minister Giorgia Meloni, commenting on the decision of the health authorities to drop off all the people who remained on board the Geo Barents and Humanity 1 for several days after docking, blocked by the yet another decree that intends to question the law of the sea, international law and the fundamental principles enshrined in the constitution.
The premier defines the decision of the doctors as “bizarre”, who put an end to the inhuman treatment to which two hundred and fifty people were subjected, threatened to be rejected by a country that was already condemned in 2009 for a similar conduct. Yet this is not the first act of the war on rescues at sea and not even the first time that Italy has tried to push back migrants to Libya.
But the doctors followed their professional ethics. Thus the first political defeat for the prime minister comes on immigration, one of the strong points of her program. Meloni conducted the electoral campaign by promising voters “a naval blockade”, that is, the deployment of military vehicles in one of the busiest and most dangerous stretches of sea in the world: a measure that in fact would be impossible to implement, because it is contrary to international law, dangerous and expensive.
A scale of vulnerability
But once in power, in practice, the electoral promise translated into a new inter-ministerial decree – a few lines, a page – which targeted humanitarian ships, defined by the premier as “pirate ships”: in 2017 they were baptized ” taxi del mare ”by Luigi Di Maio and in 2018 Matteo Salvini had defined the operators as“ sub-captains ”. But unlike the security decree bis signed by the then interior minister Salvini, in the case of the decree signed by Matteo Piantedosi there was not even a need for a judge’s pronouncement. A more in-depth intervention by the Italian health authorities on November 8 was enough to establish that, after crossing the most dangerous route in the world, the one in which 25 thousand people have died since 2013, we are “survivors”.
Neither shipwrecked nor migrants. But survivors who often report skin infections, malnutrition, post-traumatic stress, mental distress, signs of torture. And it is therefore arbitrary to establish any scale of vulnerability, because everyone and everyone after such a journey have the right to touch the ground. Frailty is a completely specious category (among other things, the medical criteria for selecting the castaways are not established in the decree) which in fact lapses in the face of a more serious medical examination.
In any case, the courts will have to rule on the appeals presented against the new decree by humanitarian organizations and the impression is that this umpteenth persecutory act against a few thousand people who arrive by sea in Italy after a rescue is destined to be dismantled, because a norm urgency such as a decree cannot prevail over an international convention or a fundamental right provided for in the constitution.
In the meantime, however, the decree has caused further suffering to the people it targets. Yet in the last two weeks, since the new government took office, only 10 percent of those who arrived by sea were rescued by NGO ships. For years now, most of the arrivals have taken place autonomously, people touch the shore (when they make it) aboard their makeshift boats or are intercepted just before arriving on the coast by Italian coast guard ships, which however rarely leave. from territorial waters. And in fact, just as the survivors of Geo Barents finally landed together with those of Humanity 1 in the port of Catania, several boats continued to arrive autonomously in Lampedusa, carrying more than three hundred people in one day.
On 9 November, during one of these landings, a 35-year-old Ivorian woman was rescued by the financial police but died shortly after landing, probably from cardiac arrest caused by hypothermia. She died of cold, essentially. In another small boat carrying 51 people, for days adrift off the coast of Lampedusa, a twenty-day-old lifeless baby was found, together with her mother, also an Ivorian woman., holding the lifeless child’s body in her arms. Other than fragility.
Prime Minister Meloni is wrong, there are no migrants at sea, no irregular migrants, no distinction between economic migrants or refugees. These are categories that can only be ascertained once they have landed. At sea, everything boils down to a simpler logic, a binary logic: there are only sailors and shipwrecked people. All sailors can become shipwrecked and all shipwrecked have been sailors, so a natural law that has its roots in the origin of our legal culture and is the basis of international law and maritime law, establishes that every sailor is obliged to rescue the castaways, because the sea is a very hostile environment in which one can lose one’s life very easily.
The linguistic battle
Shipwrecked, migrants, frailties, residual cargo, selective landings. It was the Minister of the Interior Matteo Piantedosi, illustrating his decree, who defined in bureaucratese “residual load” the people who, according to him, did not have the right to disembark. Once again the war on foreigners is also a linguistic battle.
Words make the world and in a war hatred must be fed through language and the construction of an enemy. In 2001, in the first political electoral campaign that was played on the skin of foreigners, the watchword was “illegal immigrants”.
It was the migrants who had expired residence permits, and who were unable to regularize their condition, who represented the symbolic enemy of the right of the time, the National Alliance and the Northern League. That condition, the so-called clandestinity, has even become a crime. And even today in the law of 2002, the Bossi-Fini, which regulates immigration in Italy, the crime of clandestinity is present.
Then, around 2013, the word clandestine was definitively eradicated (not without a very hard battle of citizens and associations) and was replaced by the more neutral “migrants”, the present participle of the verb migrate. Already in 2015, in the midst of the so-called refugee crisis, the Al Jazeera channel warned against the indiscriminate and dehumanizing use of the word “migrant” which in fact had become a way of saying “second-rate human being”.
“The term migrant has become an umbrella category, a tool that dehumanizes and serves to distance ourselves from the people we are talking about”, wrote at the time Al Jazeera who announced at the same time that he wanted to call all migrants, people on the move, ” refugees “, beyond their legal status, to report their vulnerability.
In the meantime, in 2017 the word “clandestine” returned to appear in an official document: it was no coincidence that it reappeared in the Italy-Libya Memorandum, the agreement that provides for the financing of detention centers and the so-called Libyan coast guard. In the same document, the detention centers where torture, extortion and inhuman treatment were documented were defined as “reception centers”.
Since 2017, the issue of immigration, and in particular sea rescue, has resumed being a terrain of political confrontation and again the indicator of degradation has been measurable in the terms used: sea taxi, vice-capers, free ride, humanitarian extremism , west sea. Each of these nouns has served to remove the sense of belonging to the same human race, each time a step forward has been made in the dehumanization of those who are subjected to discriminatory and ferocious laws. And in the end, even a neutral term like migrant has become disparaging and dehumanizing.
“They are not shipwrecked, they are migrants”, says Giorgia Meloni. And then one wonders when did we stop recognizing “migrants” the fundamental rights that are guaranteed to those who can benefit from the definition of “persons”.