#WhereAreThey: Remembering the lives of those who perished trying to reach Europe on February 9, 2020

At 04.09am on February 9, 2020, the distress hotline Alarm Phone received a call, a call that was initially no different than the dozens of others the organization receives each year. (In 2019, 101 boats, carrying over 6,200 people, reached out to Alarm Phone for help, compared with just 27 boats in 2018.) A group of 91 people were trapped on a deflating black dinghy off Garabulli, Libya. They gave their GPS coordinates to Alarm Phone, who duly relayed the information to Italian, Maltese and Libyan authorities. The passengers called again at 05.35 — and then, silence. The people on board were never heard from again.

On February 9 this year, protests and commemorative events were held in the deceased’s hometowns in Africa and across Europe to remember their lives.

In a call to action, Alarm Phone wrote:

In solidarity with [the dead], and in solidarity with the friends and families of all people who went missing or were killed by the violent European border regime, today we gather in several cities to demand answers.

Together with them, we say their names out loud, to remind Europe that each Black Life matters, that we will not forget, and that we will keep fighting against this racist border regime.

Together with them, we demand an immediate end to racist violence, to the killing of people on the move, and to their forced disappearance.

Today and every day we fight to hold Europe accountable for its racist violence, and we fight for freedom of movement for all.

The 91 people who perished that day make up just a small proportion of the estimated 983 human lives lost in the vast water-desert of the Central Mediterranean in 2020, according to IOM’s Missing Migrants project. 124 people have died in the entire Mediterranean thus far in 2021, only five weeks into the calendar year.

The silence from authorities on this boat was defining. At the time, the Libyan coastguard told Alarm Phone they would not conduct a search and rescue operation in the area because “the detention centers were full,” according to Alarm Phone.

A month later, Alarm Phone wrote an open letter to authorities demanding answers and accountability. They received no response.

Finally, in December of last year, after sending another letter to authorities, Alarm Phone received a response from Frontex: a picture of the deflated dinghy [featured photo]. No human remains are visible in the photograph.

While it is perhaps a positive development that Frontex felt enough pressure to release the picture, a mere photograph is grossly inadequate. It does not provide answers, explanations or any relief. All that it proves is that Frontex knew about this atrocity and was so cowardly and heartless that it did not release the information until compelled to do so due to a mix of internal and external pressures. More than a picture of a boat, it is a portrait of Frontex’s complicity.

Throughout the past year, families and friends of the 91 missing people reached out to Alarm Phone to enquire about their loved ones, and through collective efforts and self-organization by the families, most of whom are from Darfur, a list of the deceased was created. Sixty-two names and dozens of faces smile out from the photo assemblage, a grim reminder of the deadly human toll of European border policies. We are glad, though, that some family members were able to gain even a modicum of closure thanks to these efforts.

In a moving tribute published yesterday, Alarm Phone wrote:

We reject the logic of reducing Black/Migrant people, their lives and their deaths to numbers and statistics. This racist dehumanisation does not account for the loss of Abdul, of Aboubacar, of Adnan, of Afdel. It does not account for the pain inflicted to their mothers, their sisters, their friends. It does not account for the White supremacist violence, by action and by inaction, historical and present, that keeps murdering Black/Migrant lives or lets them die at sea.

Commemorative videos can be viewed below. You can also check out a blog post by Civil Fleet about the one year anniversary.


Reposted, with mild edits, from Are You Syrious.