CROSSING THE MEDITERRANEAN BY BOAT

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread

Published: 00:00, May 22,2019

 
 

Migrants, who were rescued after their boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea off the Tunisian Coast after they had left Libya, are seen inside a local Red Cresent chapter in Zarzis, Tunisia, on May 11. — Reuters/Zoubei Souissi

However sweet and beautiful and economically emerging country may we depict our homeland, we cannot blink at the fact that many people of Bangladesh are allured to leave the country for earning bucks from outside and to risk their lives by undergoing a journey by boat, not in lakes nor in rivers, but in mighty seas, where ships sometimes fear to sail, writes Gazi Mizanur Rahman

SEPARATED by only 14 kilometre-wide Gibraltar Strait from the Atlantic, the Mediterranean Sea of 2.5 million square kilometres of water space lies between the three conjoined continents. It is surrounded by Africa in the south, Asia in the east and Europe in the north and the west. The neighbouring soils lapped by its water gave birth to the world’s most famous civilisations, such as Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Phoenician, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Arabian, and the Ottoman, giving the Mediterranean a prestigious place among the maritime worlds.
Its blue water exposes a beautiful sight for the mariners and air travellers when they cross or fly over this expanse of water to travel between Europe and Asia-Africa. However, the Mediterranean Sea has a history of bloodiest wars, human slavery and human trafficking as well as human exodus in quest of unknown lands of hope and imagination.
Human species started crossing the Mediterranean to reach a land of the less hot and less arid atmosphere from Africa which is the original home to mankind. In later times, the Greeks and the Romans crossed the sea and established their empire in Egypt, regions of the Levant and the North African territory. The Muslims crossed it during the Middle Ages and established their rule in Spain. The Turkish sultanate occupied many parts of the land lying on the other side of the Mediterranean.
The imperialistic powers of the 17th century and onwards set sails over it to discover and conquer new boundaries. They had to overpower the Mediterranean Sea. Recently, this sea has been a barrier for the economically challenged members of the human race who live in less prosperous and war-torn societies of Asia and Africa and try to reach to the European mainland, which, to many of them, is a land of dreams.
The voyages were not always legal. In the past, forced abduction took place for carrying out an immoral slave trade. The modern world is witnessing self-imposed abduction of human beings likened to the slavery of ancient times. This is called human trafficking. These self-abducted gullible citizens of many countries of different parts of Asia and Africa come to the southern coast of the Mediterranean, look at the glimmering landscape of Europe and are enthused in imagination to jump into small ships or boats floating over the sea. Since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has been in a civil war, creating a complete lawlessness that creates an atmosphere to use the land of Libya as a temporary transit. Taking advantage of Libya’s lawlessness, traffickers began operating their unethical business from that war-torn country’s boundary.
In the past, it was the European and Afro-Asian slave traders who transported humans by force. Now, it is a band of human traffickers under the guise of human resources business companies that procure youths and make them board small boats to cross the sea. Records say that at least one out of 18 of these unfortunate people cannot reach their expected country and are engulfed by the cruel waves of the sea. According to the UNHCR, at least 443 migrants lost in the Mediterranean while they were trying to reach Europe by crossing the sea by boats this year. The figures were 2,299 in 2018 and 3,139 in 2017.
On May 9, a boat carrying 80 migrants capsized in the Mediterranean off the Tunisian coast. There were 54 Bangladeshis on board and only 14 of them were rescued. The rest 40 are feared dead. There is no record of how many Bangladeshi citizens drowned before this incident. This is because parties connected with this illegal transaction suppress the fact which may be stranger than fiction. However sweet and beautiful and economically emerging country may we depict our homeland, we cannot blink at the fact that many people of Bangladesh are allured to leave the country for earning bucks from outside and to risk their lives by undergoing a journey by boat, not in lakes nor in rivers, but in mighty seas, where ships sometimes fear to sail. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
Why should this illegal life-threatening immigration attempt be adopted by Bangladeshi citizens? Is it a country like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen or a few countries in Africa where war and famine compelled people to flee their homeland even at the risk of perilous voyages? We should consider how many of Indians, Sri Lankans, Nepalese, or Bhutanese have ever embarked on such a fatal journey by boat in the sea? If none or the number is scanty, then there comes some sort of responsibility on the well-off section of citizens of Bangladesh that they have failed to make their fellow citizens understand the dark side of such home-leaving.
It gives an understanding to the world community that we are not law-abiding and we are living in such an abject economic condition that our young generation even do not care about the risk of sea-crossing by boat only to have an opportunity to earn a modest income in other countries.

Gazi Mizanur Rahman is a writer and former civil servant.

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