According to the Guardian, dozens of African migrants were left to die in the Mediterranean Sea after a number of European and NATO military units apparently ignored their cries for help. On board were 72 passengers, including several women, young children, and political refugees (twenty were women and two were small children, one of whom was just one year old). All but 11 of those on board died from thirst and hunger after their vessel was left to drift in open waters for 16 days.
Despite alarms being raised with the Italian coastguard and the boat making contact with a military helicopter and a NATO warship, no rescue effort was attempted.
“Every morning we would wake up and find more bodies, which we would leave for 24 hours and then throw overboard,” said Abu Kurke, one of only nine survivors. “By the final days, we didn’t know ourselves … everyone was either praying, or dying.”
“We’d finished the oil, we’d finished the food and water, we’d finished everything,” said Kurke, a 24-year-old migrant who was fleeing ethnic conflict in his homeland, the Oromia region of Ethiopia. “We were drifting in the sea, and the weather was very dangerous.” At some point on 29 or 30 March the boat was carried near to a Nato aircraft carrier – so close that it would have been impossible to be missed. According to survivors, two jets took off from the ship and flew low over the boat while the migrants stood on deck holding the two starving babies aloft. But from that point on, no help was forthcoming. Unable to manoeuvre any closer to the aircraft carrier, the migrants’ boat drifted away. Shorn of supplies, fuel or means of contacting the outside world, they began succumbing one by one to thirst and starvation.
For most of the migrants, the failure of the Nato ship to mount any rescue attempt proved fatal. Over the next 10 days, almost everyone on board died. “We saved one bottle of water from the helicopter for the two babies, and kept feeding them even after their parents had passed,” said Kurke, who survived by drinking his own urine and eating two tubes of toothpaste. “But after two days, the babies passed too, because they were so small.”
This took place from late March to early April. What was NATO doing at that time? It was busy bombing Gaddafi forces and deliberating whether or not to arm the Libyan rebels. Meanwhile, 600,000 civilians in eastern Libya were in need of humanitarian assistance, as they suffered dire shortages of food, water and medicine. At Libya’s borders with Egypt and Tunisia, were tens of thousands of Libyans and refugees, who remained stuck following attempts to flee the fighting and were also running severely low on vital supplies, causing a parallel humanitarian catastrophe.
If NATO were truly interested in humanitarian intervention, it would focus on providing food, water, and medical supplies to Libyans, instead of instigating a civil war through a bombing campaign that is only leading to more violence. Will the pleas of civilians slowly dying from thirst and starvation continue to be ignored by the US-led NATO efforts to “protect Libyans” with bombs and assassination attempts? If history is any indication, then be prepared for more stomach-wrenching, fatal consequences of “humanitarian intervention” comparable to the fate of the 72 passengers that NATO could not be bothered to save.