Sea of Dead – by Laura Aguirre (El Faro)

~ This column was originally published by El Faro on May 27, 2015 ~


Worldwide, 65% of the irregular migrants who die do so attempting to reach the European Union. The majority drown. They are swallowed by the warm Mediterranean Sea along the Italian coastline. The UN estimates that in 2014, close to 220,000 people crossed the Mediterranean, and more than 5,000 lost their lives attempting to make the passage. In April this year, the capsizing of a single ship led to 700 lives lost; more than nine times the 72 immigrants found murdered in Tamaulipas, Mexico in 2010. The World Organization of Migrants has classified Europe as the most dangerous destination for undocumented migrants. The humanitarian crisis now landing on the doorstep of the birthplace of human rights is without comparison.

Since the events of April, alarms have been sounding at full volume across the region, and the pressure not to ignore the tragedy is tremendous. Nevertheless, European Governments have not displayed any willingness to offer a real response, and they shield themselves behind the rhetoric of always, affirming that the only way to stop the deaths is to stop irregular migration. If people did not leave their homelands, obviously they would not die trying to reach another country. And to stop that, what is necessary is to combat the networks of human traffickers.

As has happened with migration between the United States, Mexico, and Central America, Europe is now repeating as a litany the notion that the mafias of human traffickers are the cause of people moving around the world. It is a simplistic rhetoric that makes it seem as though eliminating traffickers is helping irregular migrants… at least saving their lives. This demagogic argument resists change because it allows governments to tell their electorates that they are doing something, without altering the popular (anti)migration policies of always: armoring and militarizing borders and approving laws that make it almost impossible to reach a safe destination. The latest proposal from Spain and Italy was the “brilliant” idea of a military operation on the North African coasts to sink the ships in which migrants were being transported.

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What nobody says in Europe, neither politicians nor the media, is that thus far all of the restrictive measures against migration have failed. People continue to move with implacable determination in search of a better future. And it is precisely the measures and laws that attempt to stop them that make the journey so dangerous. The more difficult it is to travel to countries legally, the more necessary trafficking networks become. How else would migrants reach their destinations? What this signifies, ultimately, is that it is those measures and laws, and therefore the governments and politicians who espouse them, who are responsible for so many lost lives.

Laura Aguirre is a columnist for the digital newspaper El Faro. This essay was originally published under the title “Mar de muertos” and is available at:

Translation by Michael Lettieri, Trans-Border Institute


About Michael Lettieri

Program Officer at the Trans-Border Institute

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