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The infinite tragedy

“Refugees are the ambassadors of injustice in the world“ says the Italian journalist Gabriele del Grande. Their tragedy is described in his recent book “Mamadous Fahrt in den Tod” (Mamadous journey to death). An interview with Gabriele del Grande.

For months you followed the routes of migrants and travelled to Marokko, Mauretania, Senegal, Mali, Tunisia and Turkey. What triggered this trip?
Gabriele del Grande: The press agency Redattorre Sociale asked me to look for figures of victims of migration in the Mediterranean. The article was never ready. And the figures showed: there is a tragedy happening at the door of Europe. And nobody talks about it. That´s when I set up the website Fortress Europe to document the official figures. But this is not about figures: it´s about the stories of people, documenting the consequences of European migration policies. I wanted to give nameless refugees a face. A publisher made it possible, that I could travel to the other side of the

Who did you meet?
People who lost their relatives, people who managed to arrive in Europe, and people who became witnesses of human rights violations. The book is about their stories. All the people who arrive by boat are ambassadors of the injustice of the world. At the same time, more than 12.500 migrants and refugess died in the last twenty years in the Mediterranean Sea. The question is: Who is responsible for that? We are talking about a massacre, about a crime.

“To stay would be a slow suicide“, is what one young man said to you in Casablanca. What kind of risks do refugees face?

That depends on their country of origin. Some refugees cross the sea to save their life. And refugees cross the sea to actually have a future. Everybody has the right to dream. But if I have dream, I just show my passport and cross the border. If your passport is from Marocco and you are not rich, you can forget about that. If you take the Mediterranean sea, it´s a short distance geographically, but: In the North, you earn 1000€ a month, in the South 100. In the North, you have democracy, in the South dictatorships. European policies support those dictatorships. There is an objective pressure to move away. A patrolling ship in the Mediterranean will not stop migration.

The thousands of dead people have been labelled as “side effects of a unilateral war, Europe declared against migrants“….

During the last years, the numbers of arrivals decreased but the number of victims increased. The routes of migration change and become longer and more dangerous. That is a consequence of the increased patrolling along the border. Then migrants drive thew boats themselves, without any experience. And fishermen don´t rescue people anymore, since they will then be accused of trafficking. But international law obliges you to rescue people. The Mediterranean Sea is a mass grave.

After September 11th, the new theory of security seems to equate migration with terrorism…

In official documents from the EU, the fight against terrorism and the fight against migration always come together. Migrants are now seen as a threat to security. But half of the people who cross the Mediterranean Sea are political refugees.

What about the right to asylum?
In theory, it exists. In practice it does not, since people cannot arrive anymore. That´s why the figures for asylum applications decrease year by year. Tens of thousands of refugees are locked in countries such as Lybia, Morocco which are not safe countries. Europe tries to keep them away from Europe. And Frontex just sees illegal migrants.

But they already live amongst us.

Around six million people live in Europe without documents. That is an important minority of people without access to rights, to legal work, to health care, without citizenships. They who cannot bring their family to Europe and cannot go back to their country. Europe needs their work but does not give them access to rights.

Henning Mankell called Lampedusa “the capital of Europe“, where dead refugees from the African Continent drift to the shores. “That is where the real, inhumane face of this privileged continent shows itself.“

Europe has different faces. For sure, Lampedusa is a blemish. Thousands of people from the Global South die and nobody cares about it. If just ten Italian people would die in the sea, it would be a huge international problem. The other face of Europe are people who got asylum, who got a citizenship and work and try to improve their situation. But the borders are the real shame of Europe.

But an autonomy of migration seems to exist.

Europe shatters dreams, if people manage to arrive. But they move. Since they are travelling illegally, it´s a struggle for free circulation, for the right of movement. You don´t want me to come, I move anyway. That is the point. With a European passport, you can almost go anywhere. From Italy to Tunisia, it costs me 47€ and I just need to show my ID card. A Tunisian who wants to come to Italy needs to pay 2000$ and risks his life in the sea. There is something going wrong.

Is there room for optimism?

In Italian I would say, my mind is very pessimistic but my heart is very optimistic. Even if the perspective is not good. There is a movement of people all around Europe who are doing their best to change something. It´s not normal that thousands of people are dying. It´s the paradox of this book that it is talking about the present. When you speak of tragedies, you speak of the past. How was this possible, why did people not do anything? But this is a present tragedy, it´s happening now. Someone dies at the border in this moment. We need to stop this.

Nina Schulz

More information can be found here:


Interview Die grenzenlose Tragödie, greenpeace magazin, 5/08, p.14