While we must continue to chase, catch and punish people who cause others to die in search of safety, those who pass policies designed to stop people travelling bear at least some of the blame.
Five people have been charged with involuntary manslaughter, participation in a criminal organisation and people trafficking, after the bodies of 18 people from Afghanistan were found in an abandoned truck close to Sofia.
The incident took place on Friday 17 February 2023.
The van had been carrying 52 Afghan people, and had continued travelling despite repeated hammering from within its container, by people who were running desperately low on oxygen.
The 34 survivors were rushed to hospital, where all remain in a stable condition.
The head of Bulgaria’s National Investigative Service and deputy chief prosecutor Borislav Sarafov said:
‘The 18 victims died of a combination of lack of oxygen in an enclosed space and difficulty breathing as they had been crammed into the truck like in a tin can.
‘The victims died slowly and painfully. This case shows an extreme callousness and demonstrates that migrants are seen only as goods that should be shipped from one place to another, irrespective of whether they are alive or dead.’
This is of course a shocking and disgusting thing to happen to any person at any time, and it is certainly to be hoped that these five people, if guilty of forcing those who died into that truck, should feel the full weight of the law (they face up to 15 years in prison).
But while they must certainly face trial for manslaughter, we must note that the people in the truck paid €5,000-7,000 to be on board.
While cramming them into a space in which many of them died is certainly despicable, we must ask whether this was trafficking. Because people who are trafficked are seldom willing to pay up to €7,000 for the ‘experience’.
We must also note that €7,000 is easily enough to afford to fly from Afghanistan – or any nearby state – to any EU state in absolute luxury. The question is, what stopped them from doing so?
It is depressingly likely that the answer is the EU, and its current absolute refusal to uphold people’s fundamental human right to leave any country to reach any other to apply for asylum.
EU member states have consistently closed all ‘regular’ (for which read – at least relatively – ‘safe’) routes for people fleeing war, chaos, terror, persecution and death in their homelands, and have gone further by closing borders even to those who have made it as far as the bloc.
And surely no-one sane would argue that there is not at least a sizeable likelihood that people fleeing Afghanistan have good reasons to wish to do so?
This is by no means to argue that the people who forced these Afghan people into the truck are ‘not guilty’ and should not be jailed for what they have done.
But it is to point out that it is the deliberate policies of EU (and UK) politicians which forced them and thousands of other men, women and children like them, into the hands of – and their cash into the pockets of – these cynical, awful people.
That is, yes of course we should punish those who forced them into this truck, but we should also remember the guilt of those whose bigotry and illegal denial of people’s human and legal rights sent them into that situation in the first place.
It is illegal to deny people the right to leave any country. It is equally illegal to refuse people access to your country to apply for safe places to live, learn and work.
Breaking these laws is killing people all over the world, just as it killed these 18 people in Bulgaria last Friday.
We deserve better. We must demand it.