Sunday 24 December 2023


Christmas is the feast of the weak.

Today, Christmas Eve, 2023, I held my first grandchild in my arms once again. She is six weeks old and perfect, and it was sheer wonder to see how little she needed to still her hunger and to carry her around till she slept.

I just saw an interview on TV of the Moroccan author Abdelkader Benali. He told the story of Maryam, to whom an entire book of the Quran is dedicated. Maryam, who retires into the desert when she is unaccountably pregnant, because she isn’t a girl of ill repute. No, said God, you aren’t a girl of ill repute, but you will bear a prophet. She is given water when she is thirsty, and when she is hungry, there is a fig tree that lowers its branches so she can pick the fruits to eat. Traditionally, the fruits of the fig tree are important for safe childbirth. 


Maryam, an old Persian miniature (Wikipedia)


The Quran story is different from ours, but not very much. No different from Mary and the ox, and the ass, and the child in a crib. That also is a story of poor people, of refugees, of weak ones who can only find refuge in a stable, between the beasts breathing softly and giving warmth so the child won’t go cold.

It may well be that this child was a Palestinian child, over 2000 years ago.

I won’t say that all Palestinians are without guilt. But when I think of the Palestinian children in Gaza, who have been bombarded for months in revenge for an horrible act of terror, I feel cold. Starry-eyed children, innocent little ones, of whom by now over eight thousand were slaughtered by a revenge exercise that even the vengeful God of the Old Testament couldn’t have thought of.


Christmas 2023. Drawing by Emad Hajjaj.


And then there are the three Wise Men from the east. The wise men who were led by a star that appeared in the sky. Wise men who may have come from Afghanistan, or Iran, or possibly from the North African desert, to pay tribute. Those people are nowadays locked up in what amounts to concentration camps, as they aren’t welcome anymore in Europe, as laid down in the new Migration Pact. The Christmas story is acted out again day after day, even now. But we haven’t learned a thing.

The churches in Bethlehem are empty in 2023, because no one goes there anymore. “How can we illuminate a Christmas tree whilst Palestinians in Gaza are killed in their thousands?” Ashraf Tannous says, a Palestinian preacher in the Lutheran church of Beit Jala, near Bethlehem. 


The child Jesus in a pile of rubble. Source: NOS.


In the Lutheran church of Bethlehem, the child Jesus normally lies in a crib in the stable, surrounded by Joseph and Mary and the three Wise Men from the east. The child is now pictured in a pile of rubble, wrapped in a keffiyeh, the Palestinian shawl which emphasises its Palestinian identity. It reminds us of the thousands of Palestinian children in Gaza, killed by the bombardments.

Christmas is the feast of the weak. Let us spare them a thought when we sit at the Christmas dinner.




Tuesday 19 December 2023

About wisdom

Wisdom is the greatest asset of mankind, even more so in today’s world, where it seems wisdom is as rare as hen’s teeth.

The day before yesterday I spoke of wisdom, storytelling and reading during a meeting about Surinamese poetry and prose, which I had been invited to by my good friend Mariska de Jong, a Surinamese lady from Haarlem. Part of the meeting was a traditional water ritual, which has a great symbolic meaning to the Surinamese, as their ancestors were carried across the water from their birthplace.

Mariska de Jong and some other participants. Source: De Pletterij, Haarlem


It was great fun, especially when one of the Surinamese participants, after my lecture, asked me mischievously whether I might be another African. My reply was ‘yes, a white one,’ upon which we burst out laughing together. 

Here is a livestream of the event, unfortunately only in Surinamese and Dutch without subtitles, made by De Pletterij, a cultural and debating centre in Haarlem. My contribution starts at 21 minutes 20 seconds.


To make up for the lack of English, I'll give you an extract of the lecture I gave, and a conclusion.


How did our ancestors share their wisdom? All over the world, stories were told after dark, when people sat together with an oil lamp, a candle or a fire. In Europe we used to have folk tales, many of which were eventually re-told and collected by the Grimm brothers into a book of fairy tales.

Here, we only know these stories as fairy tales, but in the African culture, the art of storytelling is still very much alive. In West Africa, as I wrote before, many of these stories are about spiders, about Anansi, once the messenger of the gods, now an earthly scoundrel and a cheat who sometimes is cheated himself. The Anansi stories travelled with the slave trade to the Americas and the Caribbean, where they are even told today, centuries later.

In my recently published historical novel with the same title Anansi, a young girl called Efua tells the stories of Anansi to the children of her village. The first chapter looks like something out of a children’s book as she tells the story of Anansi who tries to steal all wisdom. This tale (I think) comes from a collection written down by the British africanist R.S.Rattray, about a century ago, but I backdated it to the 17th Century.

yours truly reading a chapter from his book. source: livestream by De Pletterij

Efua’s story ends in a metaphore: the river took the wisdom collected by Anansi to the sea, which spread it all over the world. And thus, a little wisdom lives in us all.

Soon, the innocent children’s book takes an horrible turn as Efua is taken from her village by slavers and subjected to all kinds of cruelty. Efua will never learn to read or write, not even as a grown woman, but she had preserved her ancestors’ wisdom in her memory, and would eventually take it to Suriname. She is, in my book, the embodiment of all those thousands of women and men, who took the knowledge of their ancestors with them across the ocean.

An English translation of the story Efua tells of Anansi and wisdom can be found HERE.


Our early ancestors, whether we have African, Asian, American or European roots, usually couldn’t read or write. That was reserved for very few: even kings and chiefs often couldn’t read or write - they had wise men and priests to write for them. But lowly traders and farmers, even though they couldn’t write, often jotted down what was sold or harvested by scoring the amount on a stick, or a stone.

Over the centuries, book printing as well as education made reading and writing into an important factor shaping our society. And inevitably during the late colonial era, reading and writing were introduced in Africa, the Caribbean and other colonial regions.

Even so, the lack of reading skills today is a source of concern - it seems that one-third of the 15-year-olds lacks basic reading and writing skill needed to function in society. We have social media, breaking news, over-stimulation by almost everything thrown
into your private life by television and the smartphone. Wisdom, or what passes for it, today is transmitted by television talkshows or by Facebook or Tiktok, so why should you want to read in the first place?

I feel that reading is a source of information, or possibly wisdom, which you can compare at leisure with other sources or even with the knowledge you already have. But reading also is a pleasant form of relaxation, even though you may have to learn appreciate it and take time for it. And the most enjoyable form of reading is reading to your children. I have recently become a grandfather and even now I am anticipating the joy of reading to my granddaughter when she will be one or two years old.

I learned to read thanks to my parents, who had cases upon cases of books and from a young age urged me to read. I still have many books from their collection, most of which are falling apart with age. Some of them I still re-read every few years. They feel like a worn old armchair that you don’t want to get rid of because it is so familiar. The advantage of reading is that you take the contents at your own pace without being hurried by images, sound and pace of a television. Reading awakens your imagination, makes you think, teaches you about other opinions and adds to your own wisdom, or perhaps to realisation how little you really know…

Thus, a book is a little like the river that took Anansi’s wisdom to the sea, which spread it all around the world.


I won’t claim that all I write is wisdom, on the contrary, most of it comes from a rich imagination that sometimes gets the better of me. But what is my goal? I mainly want to tell a gripping story that captivates my readers, much like the ancient storytellers of Anansi, or Reinaert the Fox, or Brer Rabbit. But I also like to do my homework because the background of my story has to be right. Perhaps that is the wisdom I try to convey in my tales.

A book is a form of entertainment: it has to capture your imagination and must be difficult to put away. When you have read a chapter, the urge must remain to turn over another page and then another. Emotion also plays its part in my work: there are parts I cannot re-read without feeling the emotion again that went into writing them. The protagonists in my books have become my friends, or perhaps my children. No wonder, as I created them myself.

The personages Evert and Efua in my book Anansi are the product of my emotion. I try to describe their feelings, how they come together and how they learn to cope with the adversity in their lives, but also the friendships with others who support them in their most difficult moments and help them along in life.

Isn’t emotion, next to wisdom, the most important quality of mankind?

Mariska de Jong and Cherida de Ziel


On the Dutch edition of this blog I recently wrote of my confusion and my doubts of today’s world, and the extreme cruelty of the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, which the world was plunged into once again by a malevolent dictator, by horrible terrorism and a trigger-happy populist, as if we haven’t learned a thing.

We haven’t learned from the Holocaust, not from the Nakba, not from colonial cruelties and our history of slavery, or Vietnam, Chile, Bosnia, Iran, Georgia, Aleppo, Afghanistan, Irak or Sudan. It is apparent in the hostility preached by slick politicians towards contrary opinions, towards foreigners, refugees and ‘fortune seekers’. Politicians that exploit the chaos created by a failing governance of their own making. It is always the other man’s fault, never our own. We are going through a dark age and I fear for the world that we leave to our children.

A people gets the leaders it deserves, said Joseph de Maistre in 1811 (Toute nation a le gouvernement qu'elle mérite). As James Freeman Clarke, an American thinker, wrote several decades later (I can only mention him once again): The difference between a politician and a statesman is that a politician thinks about the next election while the statesman thinks about the next generation.

Only statemanship can save us, but sometimes it seems the river that carried Anansi’s wisdom to the sea has dried out.

I wish you and us all a great deal of wisdom in the year 2024.

Sunday 5 November 2023

Recent promotion work

Despite the horrors and war crimes committed in other parts of the world, it is hardly conceivable that normal life also goes on in most places. We hardly realise how lucky we are.

On Saturday, October 28th, I gave a short presentation of my book ANANSI at a local bookseller, a few minutes from home. It was a much shortened version of presentations I gave previously, tailored to the location, consisting of no more than the video trailer (see below) and a short talk of 10-15 minutes, enough for a public that of necessity has to stand.

the setting

The people in the shop had put a neat table at my disposition, with some flowers and a stack of my books - ANANSI and my previous titles.

I had brought a TV to use as a large monitor and sound system for a computer with the video, the Powerpoint and a slide show. And a Kente cloth and an Ashanti mask from Ghana, to create some atmosphere.


The presentation was well patronised, mainly by friends, neighbours and family members who hadn’t attended my previous talks. I even met an unknown namesake, who probably has the same ancestors I have, about 200 years ago.

signing my books

The shop sold 14 copies of my books, all of which I autographed, not a bad result for such a small event. They were well pleased with it, as I was myself. They planned to keep a few copies in stock for a week or so, and kept my ANANSI banner in the shop over the weekend.

 Biblioteca Barlaeanorum

I haven’t yet written of a recent visit to my old secondary school, the Barlaeus ‘Gymnasium’ in Amsterdam, where I did my ‘A’ levels over 50 years ago, in 1970. I fondly remember that school for the excellent teaching I received, in modern languages, Latin, classic Greek, mathematics and science.

Barlaeus Gymnasium, Amsterdam


The school maintains a collection of books written by alumni, which is grandly named the Biblioteca Barlaeanorum. They already had a copy of my first book The Batavian, so now I brought them a copy of each of the others: The Cargo, Two Fathoms Deep and Anansi, naturally all in Dutch, which brought their collection up to date.

Biblioteca Barlaeanorum


The future

Giving lectures is great fun: for instance, sharing all the knowledge I gathered of the transatlantic slave trade. This is an enjoyable bonus of authorship - I have a great deal of material to turn into a tailor-made lecture. Such as the historic perspective of the slave trade, and how it was organised, and seafaring in days long gone. Or the early history of the Colony of Suriname, and the mutiny and murder of its first Governor in 1688, or the role of the well-known Anansi stories as cultural heritage of the Maroons, the descendants of fugitives from the plantations. And how to turn a simple idea into a complete novel...

I’d love to give a lecture overseas, but that is hardly practical. So I’m afraid all I can do to promote my work in the UK and elsewhere in the English language domain is write about it on my website or this blog. Or perhaps use the publicity machine of Amazon...


Monday 16 October 2023

An eye for an eye

History repeats itself

Writing isn’t always fun, as the title of this blog implies. Up to now I didn’t want to write of the new Gaza war, because there are no words to describe the mutual cruelties being inflicted. But perhaps it is good to try and learn from history - an essential task for an author. Many years ago, I experienced some Middle Eastern history at close quarters.

Yom Kippur 1973

Exactly 50 years ago, I arrived in the Middle East in a Dutch cargo vessel, shortly after the Yom Kippur war, in which Israel was surprised by an invasion on two fronts from Syria and Egypt, and barely managed to save its skin.

My ship, the mv Oostkerk, prior to departure from Rotterdam in June 1973

The (then) Dutch Defense Minister Henk Vredeling secretly supplied arms to Israel, even without telling his boss, Prime Minister Joop den Uyl. When Vredeling blabbed on TV, naturally the Arabs were furious and imposed an oil boycott against Holland. And my ship was boycotted when we arrived in Latakia, Syria. We barely escaped unharmed. 

Three quarters of our cargo, which came from India and Sri Lanka, was destined for Lebanon, Syria and Libya. Having discharged some cargo in Barcelona, Marseilles and Genoa (where I celebrated my 22nd birthday), we continued to Beirut, still uncertain about the situation awaiting us. Halfway between Crete and Cyprus we passed a US Navy force which included an aircraft carrier.

Our Third Mate plotted large forbidden areas in the chart of the Levant, war zones full of minefields - there were only ‘safe’ corridors to Beirut and Latakia. At the time they were still fighting on the Golan heights.

Beirut, November 1973. It still looks peaceful, but tension in the city could be felt and civil war was about to break out.

We cranked the lifeboats outboard, ready for launching in their old-fashioned davits, and closed our only watertight door, that between the engine room and the propeller shaft tunnel. It was clear that we were headed for a war zone. How it ended can be read in my website:

It could be a theme for a new book - perhaps it will appear at some stage...

An eye for an eye

50 years hence, following intifadas, continous rocket attacks, terrorism and cruel border wars, now we have seen a gruesome attack by Hamas in the south of Israel, followed by an equally gruesome retaliation war started by the Israelis, who are effectively carpet bombing a densely populated area to get at Hamas terrorists sheltering under the city. The scale of cruelty is mind-boggling, with thousands of dead on either side.

Who wants to understand the source of this conflict, should go back to the flight of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their lands in 1947-1949. Many were driven out by violence and terror by the newly formed State of Israel. An horrible example is the Deir Yassin massacre in 1947, perpetrated by Israeli murder squads, one of which (the Irgun) was commanded by Menachem Begin, later Prime Minister of Israel. Others left at the invitation of neighbouring Arab countries, who at the time may have thought to benefit from it. The Palestinians still refer to this as the Nakba, the disaster. Nowadays we’d call this ethnic cleansing, a word some people won’t thank me for. If you object, then please point out the difference to me. What’s in a name.

the Jaramana refugee camp near Damascus, 1948 (Wikipedia)

Following WW1, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine were designated a mandate area to be administered by the French and the British. In those days, urged by the Zionist movement and supported by the British (the Balfour Declaration), migration began of the Jewish diaspora to the Promised Land. And inevitably, soon the first tensions developed between the Jewish colonists and the Palestinian locals, who naturally viewed the colonists as invaders. When the British eventually put the brakes on immigration, Zionist militants turned on them.

Should we refuse the Jews a safe country, after having been ravaged by pogroms and the holocaust? Should we refuse the Palestinians a safe country of their own? Whoever has the answer, please tell me. The two sides are entrenched against one another, each held hostage by ideology and bitter hatred fed by a century of violence.

the results of a 1948 car bomb set off by Arab militants in Ben Yehuda Street, Jerusalem.

The two-state solution, once advocated to return to the Palestine people at least part of their ancestral lands, probably is the only possible compromise. But how to get two uncompromising parties back at the negotiating table? 

The theft of land, the de-humanisation and aggression by Jewish colonists in the Israel-occupied territories has continued for decades, feeding the monster of terrorism at the other side. 

Meanwhile, foreign powers such as Iran, Russia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United States are stoking the fire relentlessly, each with their own agenda.

The Norwegian cartoonist Morten Morland drew this appropriate image of Netanyahu hitting Gaza, as ayatollah Khamenei blows out the match he used to light the fire. Note the tiny image of a woman and child fleeing, silhouetted on the hillside.

I will not take sides, even though Western politicians fall over each other to express their support for Israel, ignoring the devastating retaliation war that is being waged by the Israelis against the terrorism of Hamas and similar groups. An eye for an eye - the spiral of revenge will never come to an end. It isn’t just Israeli children, but also Palestinian children who have a right to live. 

All that remains for me is to express deep regret and sympathy with all the thousands of innocents to both sides, who once again fell victim to this almost insolvable conflict.

Additions and corrections November 4th
The conflict is even more complicated than I realised at first, as the political situation in the Middle East is marked by wide-spread distrust within the Muslim world.
Hamas is connected with the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood. The Hamas leadership hides itself in Qatar, which has for years vied for power with Saudi Arabia. A probable cause for the 7 October attacks by Hamas on Israel is the overtures made by the Saudis to Israel, which apparently have now ceased. 
In Qatar talks are going on between Hamas and the Iranian Foreign Ministry - apparently a pact is being forged against a common enemy.

blood on their hands: talks in Qatar between the Iranian Foreign Minister and the Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, October 14 (source: CBC News.)

Hezbollah, which is based in Lebanon, is a Shiite group supported by Iran and Syria. Even though they are fighting Israel, they haven't deployed their full power, possibly under American threat. 
Meanwhile, the death toll in Gaza passed the 20,000 mark, 8000 of whom are innocent children, as opposed to 1139 Israeli victims (corrected numbers 1/1/24). All proportion is gone from the Israeli retaliation. When will there be an end to the violence caused by the war-mongering leadership to both sides? The Netherlands refused to demand a cease-fire and refrained from voting in the UN. What a disgrace. Meanwhile, the world looks on in horror

Monday 2 October 2023

A summary of my books

Up to now I haven’t done a great deal of promoting the English editions of my books, so to make a start, I decided to give you an overview. My books were originally written and published in Dutch. 
ANANSI, TWO FATHOMS DEEP, THE CARGO and THE BATAVIAN are now available from Amazon, in paperback and Kindle e-book format. They were also released for general availability through booksellers and can be ordered using the ISBN and the title. I will now give a short description of each book, including a link to an extract and a video trailer.



ISBN: 9798395461148

ANANSI (2023) is an historical novel set against the slave trade and the Surinamese plantations at the end of the 17th Century. It is the story of the forbidden love of an enslaved woman and a Dutch sailor, who against all odds and the harsh reality of the slave trade hold on to one another, hoping for a better life in freedom. The tale begins in fort Elmina, the headquarters of the Dutch West India Company in what used to be the Gold Coast (Ghana today). It then moves across the Atlantic, ending up in the colony of Suriname shortly after the Dutch take-over in the late 17th Century.

The main protagonists are Efua, a young African woman enslaved by a Spanish slave trader based in Elmina, and a rebellious Dutch sailor, who feel irresistibly attracted to one another. The forbidden liaison comes to light and the girl is sold and put aboard a slave ship to Suriname. The young man manages to talk himself on board another ship to go and search for her on the other side of the Atlantic, a search full of hardship in the South American jungle.

ANANSI is a gripping tale of the Dutch slave trade and the horrors of the Surinamese plantations, about Caribbean pirates, hurricanes and the deprivations of seafaring in times long gone. The folk tales of the spider and smart trickster Anansi, which in West Africa are related by the elders to the younger generation, travelled to Suriname with the slave trade, and are at the core of the book. Efua tells the stories she learned from her grandmother and takes them with her on the slave ship to Suriname.

click for an extract from the book

Videotrailer for ANANSI:



ISBN: 9798509954160

What happened to the cargo of the French brig-of-war 'Arabelle', which lay hidden under the sand for two hundred years?

TWO FATHOMS DEEP (2022) is the story of the wreck of the French brig-of-war 'Arabelle' of Napoleon's day, which lay two fathoms below the sand off the isle of Ameland for two centuries. A young man and his girlfriend, who is a descendant of a survivor of the disaster, find enigmatic documents in the legacy of her deceased grandmother.

The personal logbook of a soldier from Napoleon's army gives them a clue to the position of the wreck. Shortly after its discovery the valuable cargo in the wreck is pillaged by ruthless salvage hunters who leave a trail of violence behind. The plot moves from the Dutch coast to the Medway and the Essex rivers.

TWO FATHOMS DEEP is an historical novel that culminates in a contemporary thriller. The wreck and family ties are wrought into a surprising link over the centuries.

click for extract from manuscript

Videotrailer for Two Fathoms Deep:



ISBN: 9798859000036

THE CARGO (2020, revised 2023) is a thriller of ordinary people caught in woman trafficking.

As a father and son sail their yacht in a coastal area of shallow creeks, islands and sandbanks, they pick up de body of a drowned young man drifting in a half-deflated lifejacket. That same evening after arriving in port and making a statement to the police, a mysterious young woman visits their boat, asking after the drowned man.

Soon afterwards they are caught in a web of international crime, intimidation and murder, which is being ignored by the authorities until it is too late and more bodies turn up. The frightening incidents during the ensuing weeks will change their lives forever.

click for extract from manuscript

Videotrailer for The Cargo:



ISBN: 9798858992837

THE BATAVIAN (2019, revised 2023) is a gripping story of the refugee crisis in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Thirty-one-year-old sailor Mark Schouten loses his job as a Second Mate due to ill-health. As he is convalescing from an operation he receives an inheritance and buys an old wooden schooner, which he restores and sails to the Mediterranean. At the end of his journey near the Turkish coast he rescues a group of Syrian refugees from the sea, who have been drifting in a leaking boat.

The rescue and the ensuing events change his life once again. Back home following his voyage he rebuilds his life, but the memory of a Syrian girl in the group he rescued from the sea keeps haunting him. He goes on a quest to find her in the chaos of the refugee crisis in Greece.

click for extract from manuscript

Videotrailer for The Batavian:



Wednesday 19 July 2023

Pushbacks at sea and in the desert

Recently I wrote of the denial of identity during slavery, and the parallels with the way Europe deals with migrants today. New developments have prompted me to write a separate article on this subject. The first item is the much-discussed Tunisia deal of the European Union in relation to pushbacks, which apparently also take place in the desert.


The newest attempt to reduce the stream of migrants from Africa is the Tunisia deal, in which the Dutch Prime Minister Rutte and his ultra-right wing Italian colleague Meloni, under guidance of EU president Ursula von der Leyen negotiated a commitment from the Tunisian dicator Saied, who will receive a sum of money and carte blanche to serve as a border guard for the EU. We know where that leads to from the example of Libya, where migrants are jailed in dire conditions, physically abused or even enslaved, or quietly disappear from the face of the earth. The earlier deal with Turkey, another country with an autocratic regime, only resulted in longer and more dangerous migration routes over the Mediterranean.

To my surprise and disgust, Rutte, whose Cabinet was toppled last week over another migration issue, together with Meloni and Von der Leyen has pushed through the migration deal with Saied. Here we see the proud trio holding hands with the Tunisian dicator. Holding hands with someone who has blood on his hands. Human rights organisations are astonished - see replies below.

source: NOS


Amnesty International: Our Government has to take human rights seriously. There shouldn’t be a deal with any country if we know in advance that we will finance human rights violations.

Vluchtelingenwerk Nederland (a major refugee support organisation): Europe turns Tunisia into a dead-end alley for refugees and migrants.

Stichting Vluchteling (another refugee support organisation, on Twitter): ‘With all consideration for human rights’, Rutte recently said about a deal with this man who jails his opposition, calls for violence against migrants and makes life difficult for refugee support organisations, leaving people without water in the desert. Human rights. Well, well.’


Deportation of migrants from the Tunisian harbour of Sfax. These people are said to have been abandoned in the desert. Source: NOS


The bloodstained hands of Saied are no invention of mine. Tunisia has a bad track record on the subject of human rights and racial discrimination. Following the popular coup and democratic movement a few years ago, the country is once again in the steel grip of a ruthless dictator, who relentlessly pushes through a racist agenda in his country, stirring up feeling against black migrants from the south.

What this leads to is clear enough – recently a few journalists from Al-Jazeera found hundreds of people who had been dropped in no man’s land on the Libyan border without food, water or shelter, by the Tunisian authorities.

And only yesterday more people were found who had been dropped in the desert by the Tunisian army, who even stole and destroyed their passports and thus proof of their identity.

migrants abandoned in the desert by Tunisian troops. Source: NOS

But our recently dismissed Prime Minister Rutte, who is only supposed to handle current affairs and not pursue controversial issues, claims there are enough safeguards for human rights. Naturally he would.

EDIT August 2, 2023: finally, Dutch Parliament seems to wake up - questions have been asked of the Cabinet about recent deaths in the desert on the Tunisian/Libyan border. And the Belgian Undersecretary for Asylum is calling upon the European Commission to monitor human rights in North Africa more closely.  

EDIT September 12, 2023: The EU Parliament made mincemeat of the Tunisia deal. ‘It is a dirty deal with a dirty dictator,’ says one European Parliament member. ‘The racist policy of Saied actually is the reason people flee the country, and this deal will never lead to less migration.’ Another MEP says this is ‘treason to European values.’ Regrettably the European Parliament was bypassed when the deal was concluded - one effect of the remarkable political structure of the Union, which is less democratic than it should be.

Pushbacks at sea

Tunisia’s neighbour Libya has its own bad track record due to countless pushbacks and other human rights violations. The most recent incident was a Red Cross-sponsored rescue action being fired upon by the Libyan coast guard, on July 11. There are clear indications that the EU-financed Libyan Coast Guard works in collusion with human traffickers and is even infiltrated by criminal gangs. This is literally admitted by the European Commissioner for Migration. Even so, this situation is kept out of the media and no one seems to care a jot. Probably the EU finds the criminal Libyan approach to migration an effective deterrent.

taking cover from Libyan shots fired at a rescue mission. Source: International Red Cross / NOS.


The Greek pushback disaster of last month

Now let us look at Greece, where international law has been violated for years already. Once again, the terrible consequences of pushbacks of migrants in the Mediterranean were in the news. Hundreds of people drowned miserably in a dilapidated old boat that apparently was going to be towed off to Italian waters by the Greek Coast Guard. For me as a former Merchant Navy officer the risks are crystal clear: the vessel was overloaded and unstable, and trying to pull incautiously at such a vessel using a hawser will capsize it. Look at the way the vessel was overloaded: 

the overloaded disaster vessel capsized at sea near Greece


Pushbacks are illegal actions by European authorities to send migrants back to the place they came from, or to sea, without verifying the legitimacy of their claim to asylum. Illegal, because this is contrary to international regulations as laid down in refugee treaties and international maritime law, and they often lead to loss of life. The authorities concerned always point the finger at human traffickers as the cause of the problem, denying their own role. In the case of the capsized boat with 700 people on board, the Greek Coast Guard is now under investigation, as is the part played by Frontex. Which naturally is being vehemently denied.

New information points at an unsavoury role of the Greeks. They reportedly put pressure on the survivors to keep their mouth shut. A Dutch news article refers to BBC interviews with some of the survivors:

Two survivors the BBC spoke with confirm that the Coast Guard tried to tow the Adriana (i.e. the disabled vessel) off. “They fastened a rope to the left hand side. Everyone then moved towards the other side to keep the vessel horizontal. The Greek vessel then moved off fast, capsizing our boat”, says one of the survivors. The BBC says this was confirmed in court testimonials of five more witnesses.

Once ashore, the survivors were told not to speak about what they had seen. “When some said that the disaster had been caused by the Coast Guard, the translator had to say to them that they had to keep their mouth shut,” said the other witness the BBC spoke with. “You have survived! Keep your mouth shut! No more questions!” reportedly had been shouted at them.

Europol will ‘assist’ the Greek authorities to get at the truth of the matter. We will have to see what comes of that.

Short-term thinking only delays the solution

Does this mean we will have to accept the endless stream of refugees and migrants, despite all the social consequences? And should we shut our eyes to the activities of the traffickers? Of course not, because most of the people who flee from their birthplace become deeply unhappy here, and the housing and administrative problems increase time after time. But all these politically (i.e. anti-immigrant) motivated deals with repressive regimes only have a short-term effect. What is needed is statesmanship aimed at a long-term solution to make the world a better place. Statemanship regrettably is hard to find today.

I will repeat what I wrote in my previous post.

What is needed is vision, not a lump sum given to an unpleasant regimes to serve as a gatekeeper for Europe. Instead of subsidising a dictatorship, there should be proper investment in the countries of origin of migrants, to create worthwile jobs for everyone in Africa, with the returns flowing back into that unhappy continent. Only that will stop the flow of migration, the trafficking and the deaths at sea and in the desert.