Lampedusa: the “globalization of indifference”


“A terrible human tragedy is taking place at the gates of Europe. And not for the first time,” said Jean-Claude Mignon, head of the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly. “We must end this now. I hope that this will be the last time we see a tragedy of this kind, and I make a fervent appeal for specific, urgent action by member states to end this shame.”

 drowned migrants

On Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013, hundreds of people died when a ship carrying African migrants toward Italy caught fire and sank off the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, spilling hundreds of passengers into the sea. Lampedusa, closer to the mainland Africa than Italy, has become the first port of entrance for migrants searching for a way into Europe. Its 6,000 residents are often outnumbered by thousands of migrants housed in improvised camps on the island.

It is reported that the UN Agency for refugees has, in the past, criticised the condition of the refugee camps and has now expressed dismay at the drowning of migrants. That response is far from adequate.

Nearer the truth

Pope Francis said: “Let’s unite our efforts so that tragedies like this don’t happen again. Only a decisive collaboration of everyone can help and prevent them . . .The word disgrace comes to mind. It is a disgrace.”

He deplored “the globalization of indifference” and added, “We pray for a heart which will embrace immigrants.”

But that will not go to the heart of the problem:  UN Secretary General Boutros Ghali did

agenda for peaceUN chief, Boutros Ghali, in his Agenda for Peace (1992) proposed a really effective early warning system with regional centres set up to undertake preventive diplomacy, to create confidence and to offer early warning based on information gathering. He advocated preventive deployment and, in some situations, demilitarised zones.

The United Nations’ current network of early warning systems is designed to monitor environmental threats, the risk of nuclear accident, natural disasters, mass movements of populations, the threat of famine and the spread of disease. Harvard’s Patrick Philippe Meier cast doubt on their value and purpose:

“Conventional conflict early warning systems are designed by us in the West to warn ourselves. They are about control. These systems are centralized, hierarchical, bureaucratic and ineffective and highly academic. Indeed, the vast majority of operational conflict early warning systems are little more than fancy databases used to store, retrieve and analyze data”.

Ghali then went on to say that such information would then be used to consider the United Nations action to be taken to alleviate it.

Programmes which would build peace and prosperity in troubled areas

RPDP coverQuaker Ted Dunn, who spent time as a hospital administrator in Ethiopia as part of his Friends Ambulance duties, later spent the rest of his life meeting or contacting decision makers in many countries to advocate regional peace and development programmes, sometimes compared with the Marshall Plan. RPDP, he advised, could be financed by

  • internal savings from lowered arms expenditure,
  • using money released by debt cancellation,
  • a levy on arms trade (Ghali),
  • a Tobin tax on speculative flows,
  • aviation fuel tax,

The outspoken Boutros Ghali, very unpopular with some senior American politicians, was emphatically denied a second term. Dunn’s work also ran contrary to the interests of powerfully lobbying finance, armaments and energy corporates.

Ted Dunn’s highly commended work – see the next post – met with indifference from the British Government and a general public preoccupied with its own personal well-being and interests.


We have all failed – the evidence lies on the shores of Lampedusa.



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