Italian military heroes

Over the last twelve months the Italian Navy has picked up 140,000 migrants in the Mediterranean Sea.  The search-and-rescue is being replaced by an EU coastal patrol that only intercepts boats that are approaching land.  The others, out on the open sea, are being left to sink or swim.  Story here.

It’ll save £4m a month and thousands more will drown.  Living, breathing, thinking, feeling human beings like me.  Like my migrant father, his was also a hazardous journey and many of his family and friends died.  That was in 1938 and he went on to serve our country, as an army officer, as a dedicated doctor, as a loving husband and father.

Most people who come here don’t take our houses, jobs, school places, hospital beds.  They build our houses;  they do the jobs that we can’t or won’t do;  they teach us in our schools;  we use the hospital beds and they care for us.

And please don’t give me the “we’ve only got so much room” crap.  There are twice as many people on this island now than when my dad arrived.  Yet the average Brit today has better healthcare, more to eat, better education, better housing, more opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors, and generally has an incomparably better quality of life.  That’s got as much to do with people like my dad as to those who were here to start with.  Arguably more.  Look at the US, it’s a nation of immigrants and it’s the richest, most dynamic place on the planet.

In charge of the present Italian naval operation is Vice Admiral Filippo Foffi, a straight-up-and-down career naval officer.  He’s not the most obvious candidate for Bleeding-Heart Liberal-of the-Month.  But he has more basic humanity in his bushy, nautical eyebrows than all those remote politicians and bureaucrats possess in their entire bodies.  The ones who are sacrificing thousands of lives just to save less in a month than the EU spends on its military every five minutes.

Here’s what Vice Admiral Foffi has to say:  “We have the duty in these cases when we are at sea to intervene to save human life. If we are not at sea then we can’t see what happens, we can close our eyes, turn off the lights and in that way, there’s no need to “turn back” the boats because they will die”

Then there’s Sergeant Major Francesco Cuonzo of the Italian Marines: “When my friends and family ask me, Why are these people coming to Italy? I respond, our ancestors also escaped when there was war. There went looking for their fortunes in America, Australia, Switzerland and other places. Where there is no war it gives you hope of a better future.”

These people want to carry on their life-saving work.  They’re not saints.  They’re just decent people.  Unlike the decision makers far away, they’re capable of normal human emotion.  They don’t judge their less-fortunate fellows, they empathise with them, they understand their aspirations and fears, they want to help.

We’re often frustrated to see large-scale human tragedy around the world and want the richer countries to do more to help.  But this is human tragedy that we are creating, in our own back yard.  And large-scale it definitely is.  Check out the details at the migrantsatsea blog.

In case you’re wondering what our own government is doing about it, here’s our minister at the Foreign Office, Baroness Anelay:  “We do not support planned search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean.  We believe that they create an unintended ‘pull factor’, encouraging more migrants to attempt the dangerous sea crossing...”.  Heartless, weasel words.  Most motorway accidents are caused by driver error.  The noble lady might just as well be planning removal of the ambulance service because it might encourage people to drive recklessly.  Besides, anyone desperate enough to brave the high seas in a tiny, over-crowded boat isn’t likely to be influenced by the possible presence of a rescue ship somewhere out there, beyond the horizon.

It’s all shameful beyond words.  But let’s hear it for Foffi and Cuonzo.  We know the jokes about Italian military heroes.  These guys may not be very good at killing people but they’re sure as hell not bad at saving them.  And they have the bravery, the moral courage, to speak up for what they know is right.   They might not be in line for many war decorations but they’ve definitely earned the Heresthething Common Decency Medal.  While there are people like these around there’s still some hope.

foffi cuonzo




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