The Malta Independent 17 October 2019, Thursday

Parallel worlds

Sunday, 1 September 2019, 08:37 Last update: about 3 months ago

Vikki Micallef

It was a typical summer’s day of stifling heat and scorching sunshine. Out at sea, the speedboat tugged the yellow inflatable banana boat across the long and curving bay on the sun-drenched Mediterranean coast and the people riding on it bounced on the waves of the water in the motorboat’s wake. Their shrieks of laughter could be heard from the shoreline and it looked like they were having great fun.

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When the speedboat purposely made a sharp turn, the banana boat turned over and all the people riding on it were hurled into the sea, hitting the water with a large splash. Then came more squeals of laughter after coughing up the seawater that they had swallowed as they scrambled up the banana boat and before long, they carried on with the ride.

There was a safe distance between the two boats, and the persons that were thrown in, only stayed in the water for a short while. The inflatable life jackets, though somewhat cumbersome, kept everybody afloat so the riders were never in any danger. Just a strain on their muscles as they desperately tried to hold on after all the sudden stops and accelerations that they were made to endure. At the end of the ride, they were brought back safely to the pier, and they all agreed that it was a most enjoyable experience.

Meanwhile, in a parallel world that many of us would rather it was bumped off our radar, people were also sitting on a boat. Except that this was no pleasure trip.

Engulfed by the menacing darkness of the night, they were about to embark on a perilous journey out of North Africa, fleeing from the horrors of war and desolation. They sailed off into the water in deadly silence, packed like squashed sardines in a rubber dinghy just two feet above sea level. Their dream was to reach the European mainland, where they hoped to rebuild a new life for themselves and their families. But they never arrived at their destination because they were cheated out of their fuel by ruthless fraudsters whose trade is to smuggle people across the Mediterranean Sea by boat.

By the morning, they were drifting with the current until they hit rough seas. When the full force of the waves eventually turned their boat over, they were hurled into the sea, hitting the water with a large splash. Nobody could hear their shrieks of terror after they coughed up the seawater that they swallowed as they struggled to stay afloat without a life jacket. Desperately, they tried to scramble up the dinghy, but their wet and heavy clothes pulled them underwater and they strained for the surface, gasping for air.

Those who survived the ordeal of having been in the water for many hours were picked up by one of the rescue vessels that carry out frequent searches in the Mediterranean Sea and taken to the nearest safe harbour. It will be impossible for them to blot out the memory of such an agonising experience which forced them to watch their fellow travellers sink into the deep dark abyss until they disappeared completely.

Meanwhile, in the looking-glass world in which we now live, many of us continue to support the recent and controversial decisions not to give shelter to asylum seekers in the European Union (EU). Indeed, we openly admire the bullying tactics of neighbouring countries like Italy and declare that we would send them back to where they came from without any consideration for their safety, if only we had the power to do so.

Many EU leaders refuse to accept that this is a matter that concerns all the member states and have chosen to look the other way. They are squabbling among themselves over burden sharing responsibilities because they claim that their citizens feel threatened in their own country by the rising immigrant population. It is merely a pretext to leave an escape route for their collective suppressed conscience.

Come the next rescue boat, for there will be others and others again, Malta will be left alone once more to bear the brunt of this ongoing refugee crisis in the Mediterranean Sea.

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