Photo Essay: The Floating Cemetery of Lampedusa

This week’s photo essay tells the story of those innocents desperately trying to escape the conflict in Libya.

The photo is of a floating cemetery of smuggler’s boats in Lampedusa. These rickety boats were used to transport people fleeing Libya for Italy. Many do not make it this far.

Earlier this week, I heard that 150 people who were fleeing the conflict in Libya in hope of reaching the safety of this Italian island drowned last Friday in one of the year’s deadliest boat incidents in the Mediterranean.

The overcrowded boat had set sail the previous Saturday from the Libyan capital of Tripoli, carrying an estimated 850 people mostly from West Africa, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The crew was recruited on an ad hoc basis and had little or no maritime experience. The boat developed technical problems soon after departure and was lost at sea. By day three, the passengers had run out of food and water.

The boat ultimately ran aground last Wednesday on a sandbank near the Kerkennah islands, some 300 km north-west of Tripoli. It subsequently capsized as desperate passengers rushed to one side, seeking rescue by the Tunisian coast guard and fishing boats that had approached the vessel. Many fell into the water and drowned.  Survivors were picked up by the Tunisian navy and coast guard and transported back to the refugee camp near Ras Adjir close to Tunisia’s border with Libya.  

It takes innumerable courage to go to the streets and protest against one’s government wherever repression is strong. But it takes equally incredible levels of fear – and distrust of the future – to pick up everything and leave. 

Anatonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, indicated just how bad the situation has now become when he told a press conference on 6 May that 65,000 people have fled the country since the Libyan crisis began. He called upon Europe to adopt a more positive and proactive policy to assist with this refugee crisis.   

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