The untold story of Mediterranean migration

Published : 04 Jul 2023 08:20 PM | Updated : 04 Jul 2023 08:20 PM

In the Mediterranean Basin, which has been the cradle of civilization since 6000 BC, once horrific, unthinkable events -- events, that is, where human life is mocked and hounded into oblivion by our indifference -- have become commonplace in our time.

Three weeks ago, in the early hours of Wednesday, June 8, roughly 750 migrants from several impoverished countries in the Global South, boarded a rickety fishing trawler that left the Libyan port city of Tobruk on its way to Italy, where these migrants sought to apply for asylum.

Six days later, on June 14, the trawler, crammed with its human cargo of harried and beaten refugees from bow to stern, capsized and sank in deep waters off the Greek Islands in the Ionian Sea.

There were 81 people confirmed dead and roughly 500 missing, more likely drowned.

It was one of the most devastating disasters of its kind, second only to the one that occured on April 18, 2016, when an overcrowded boat, equally rickety, packed beyond capacity with migrants, collided off the coast of Libya with a freighter that, ironically, was trying to come to its rescue. 

As many as 1,100 were on board. Only 20 people survived.

Five months later, on September 21, yet another boat, with around 600 migrants on board, sank off the Egyption coast. Well over 200 bodies were recovered (including at least 30 children), while dozens more remained missing.

And so it went on. Since 2014, an estimated 27,000 people have perished -- known to have died or to have been declared missing -- trying to cross the Mediterranean, after leaving behind home and homeland, seemingly in an effort to seek new lives and opportunities for themselves and their families in Europe.

Look, when these folks put their lives on the line, undertaking what they must have known was a notoriously dangerous journey, in order to escape war, persecution, famine, drought, grinding poverty and the rest of it (and listen, please, to their stories, one at a time, each heart-wrenching in its own right), they id so driven by a migratory impulse already deeply encoded in their human archetype.

We are all, every single one of us, every single one of the roughly 8 billion people who inhabit this planet today, descendants of homo sapiens who, 70,000 years ago, migrated from the African continent to several parts of Europe, Asia and then the rest of the world. 

We never stopped, propelled as we were by an unquenchable force within us to thrust ourselves beyond our fixed place -- and thus beyond our fixed meaning.

Don't ask what exactly that force was or where it came from, a force that drove those early humans to migrate over vast distances and to traverse enormous tracts of land in search of a place to call home, or to cross vast bodies of water without knowing what lay on "the other side" -- or for that matter if there was indeed another side out there.

Heck, around 35,000 years ago, these daring humans set out to reach the Australian continent -- in canoes. And around 4,000 years ago, in our own part of the world, Semitic tribes burst forth from the Arabian Peninsula, heading north, to populate the Mesopotamean Valley and the Fertile Crescent. Humans, I say, never stopped.

Migration, tell us neuroscientists, whose mind-blowing discipline is focused on the study of the humming secrets hidden in our subconscious, is wired to the very neurons in our brain. 

And Paul Tillich (d.1965), the German-American existential philosopher and religious socialist, who is regarded in the Western world as the most influential theologian of the twentieth century, concurs.

In the introduction to his work, Mind and Migration, he wrote: "It is my intention [here] to show that there is not simply an accidental but an essential relationship between mind and migration, that mind in its very essence is migratory and that human mental creativity and man's migrating power belong together".

So, you should no ask what drove those hundreds of unfortunate souls -- whose bodies will have the bottom of the Ionian Sea off the coast of Greece as their final resting place forevermore -- to embark on their fateful journey of hope anymore than you should ask why their ancestors embarked on similar, equally dangerous voyages to reach "the other side". It is in us as humans to take risks, to seek new horizons, to jump outside the skin of own moment and place of immediacy in life

You and I, along with those others who do not believe that our world should be divided between the West and the Rest, defined by a plus-minus dichotomy, need to ask, for surely the moral of the story should be of concern to us, shouldn't it?

Fawaz Turki is a noted academic, journalist and 

author based in the US