Silent march for migrants lost at sea – April 22, 2015
Funerals for 24 victims killed in the worst ever capsizing of a migrant boat in the Mediterranean – April 23, 2015
T. S. Elliot considered April to be “the cruelest month” and it is hard to disagree. With hundreds of lives lost in just six days, April 2015 will be regarded as one of the deadliest periods on record regarding irregular migration via Mediterranean Sea. On April 14th, Save the Children Foundation reported that some 400 people have drowned trying to reach Europe. Before the world had a chance to recover from shock and disbelief, another tragedy has struck. On April 19th, over 600 would be migrants and asylum seekers died after their vessel overturned. Only a handful of survivors have been saved. In the same time Italian rescuers received thirty eight distress calls from twenty different boats bringing to ports over 8000 individuals – men, women and children (some as young as two years old).
The scale of the disaster can only be described as a humanitarian tragedy, biggest maritime incident since the end of WW II. Its implications are hard to imagine at this stage and will surely last decades. We can only theorize about orphaned children and families torn apart but the terrible truth is that we may never know the full impact of loss of so many lives.
In the face of such unprecedented crisis reactions on local level have been both vocal and emotional. Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said he had nightmares of “bodies floating in the water”. Former PM Laurence Gonzi stated that the incidents were a “shame on us all [in Europe]”. Opposition MEP Roberta Metsola called on other EU member states to “stop bickering while bodies continued to wash up on the beaches”.
Maltese public also remained strongly affected by the events. On April 22, 2015 a silent march has been held in the village of St Julians to commemorate the lives lost at sea. Organized by four activists: Maria Pisani, Erika Borg, Alba Cauchi and Damjan Attard – the march attracted a record number of participants. Over a thousand members of the general public, state officials and activists gathered in front of the Love Monument in St Julians in a show of solidarity. Among those marching were President of Malta Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, Minister of Justice Owen Bonnici, Head of Opposition Simon Bussutil and US Ambassador to Malta Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, members of various local NGOs and The Ursuline Sisters Order.
Many present held white flowers, candles and hand-made signs. Their message was clear as signs read: “1000 dead in 24 hours. Welcome to Fortress Europe”, “Not MY Europe”, “ People before borders” and “#AllLivesMatter” – a reference to the recent civil protests in United States as most victims of the drowning in Mediterranean have been indeed young men running away from the wars and poverty in their communities. Some posters have been made and carried by children – another sad reminder of the migration crisis. In recent years hundreds of minors have been crossing the sea on their own to reach safety in Europe and their number is rising. One of the bodies recovered from the vessel that overturned on April 19, 2015 belonged to a boy not older than 14.
The location of the march was not accidental. The village of St Julians is a tourist hub and the heart of entertainment in Malta. It is also an area where many expats from European Union and Commonwealth Countries reside and work. Love Sign is a popular gathering spot and usually is adorned with locks and other symbols of everlasting feelings. St Julians boasts of many restaurants, nightclubs and a picturesque seafront promenade. The village that is always loud and bursting with life fell completely silent for the duration of the march. The crowd started moving along the promenade towards the neighbouring village of Sliema at 19:00 pm followed by international press covering the event. All local newspapers and TV stations were present as well as Italian and English media representatives.
There were many signs of solidarity with the marchers. Some people joined in along the way, workers from nearby restaurants were silently standing in the doors to show their respects, the bells of church in Balluta Bay were ringing and the parish priest came out in front of the church to see the march himself.
By 19:50 pm the march descended towards a beach in Sliema – another popular leisure spot for both locals and tourists where flowers were thrown into the sea and the candle vigil followed. The members of the crowd began to sing Amazing Grace and some of the migrants who survived the journey to Europe made short speeches thanking the public for their presence. Many cried as they recalled their own perilous journey towards safety. Hundred candles on the shore were in a striking contrast to the several families who organized a barbecue in the same location, apparently unaware of the planned event.
Despite the significant police presence (and the very discreet security personnel protecting the President) the march came to an end without any incidents and proved to be very well organized. By 20:30 pm most of the crowd has left and only a small group of Eritreans and Somalis remained to discuss the funeral arrangements for the victims of the drowning. Some 24 bodies have only been recovered and brought to Malta to be buried next morning at the Mater Dei Hospital. We have spoken to several members of the community and despite the tragedy most of them were hopeful that things would improve and more help would be allocated to the people who seek refuge in Europe. That is the spirit of the people who have lost everything and yet refuse to stop the fight for a better future.
At the end we would like to quote the words of Maria Pisani – one of the organizers of the march. “We hardly speak of those who perished as fathers and sons, mothers and daughters. We speak of the numbers, not people”.
Perhaps the human cost of the migration crisis in the Mediterranean will now take a centre stage. But it took thousands of lives over the years to get to this point.
Mike Caffrey – originally from the UK and now based on Malta, Mike has been working as a professional photographer since the 1980’s. His versitile skills allow him to easily portray any topic or dive into many photography genres: street, journalism, nature, fashion, production, gigs and corporate. He has 16 years of experience in photo editing and design. When not taking pictures, he can be seen rock climbing and kayaking (he is also a teacher of both of those). Mike is also a successful portrait painter. If you’d like to hire him for your business, please contact him at:
If you want to help to save lives on Europe`s bloodied boarder, please consider making a small donation to MOAS (Migrant Offshore Aid Station) an NGO that saved 3000 lives last year at
Rita and Malicia Dabrowicz