Laucling Sonko: Spain guilty of his inhuman treatment and death

The UN Committee against Torture has found the Spanish State guilty of the death of a Senegalese potential asylum seeker.

29-year-old Laucling Sonko was made to jump into the sea on the night of 25-26 September 2007 by Spanish military police (Guardia Civil).  He had been trying, with three others, to swim into Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in northern Morocco, as a potential applicant for asylum and international protection.

The individuals were intercepted by a Guardia Civil patrol boat, made to board and taken into Moroccan waters, where the officers pierced their life-jackets and made them jump into the sea.  Sonko could not swim and drowned.

The UN CAT found the Spanish state guilty of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment that humiliated personal dignity and endangered human life.

Who can comprehend the human cruelty of the police officers who forced this young man, already likely exhausted and desperate for help, to jump into the sea with a dysfunctional life-jacket and there let him drown?

The horror, when imagined, is unthinkable – yet, although the finding that Spain is guilty of torture may be exceptional, the death of another migrant losing his life due to the heavy surveillance of Europe’s sea and land borders and immigration enforcement is nothing other than systematic:

“In 2005, Amnesty International reported that the Spanish authorities used boats to patrol the Atlantic that were physically equipped for intercepting migrants but not for rescuing them.  Thus, migrants drowned after being intercepted by the Spanish Coastal Guard.  Although the authorities now [writing in 2007] use different boats, surveillance is expressly stated as being the main mission…”[i]

Less than a month after I wrote my last article here about the fatal reality of policies of immigration deterrence, mourning the sinking of a boat full of Iranian, Iraqi and Afghan asylum-seekers off the coast of East Java, the Costa Concordia struck a rock and ran to ground.  The Costa Concordia catastrophe attracted enormous publicity in the international media, in stark contrast to the deaths of hundreds of asylum-seekers trying to reach safety by flimsy boat and overcrowded ship, which are so little publicized.  Those deaths appear, at most, as brief notes in the media; ‘almost daily as fait divers in European newspapers’.[ii]

The inhuman suffering and deaths of migrants at the borders result from Europe-wide asylum policy, as United Against Racism notes:

“The on-going tragedy of people dying in search of protection is a shame to Europe’s civil conscience. These deaths are not isolated incidents. They are the deadly result of the building of a ‘Fortress Europe’. Europe’s exclusion policy – a policy of border closing that makes it almost impossible to legally enter Europe, that lacks re-settlement programs and cannot guarantee refugees a safe transfer to other countries – has forced tens of thousands of people to resort to illegal ways of getting to a country where they are safe and where economical survival is possible.”

Communal action will be necessary to change the drift of policy, a basic change in attitude that demands that the lives of these desperate migrants be treated with as much dignity and inherent value as the lives of cruise-ship holidaymakers.  We will need to demand of our politicians that human lives are treated with more respect than inanimate national and regional borders.

Perhaps there are some fellow activists out there, locally, who would see the massive publicity around the 100-year anniversary of the Titanic disaster as an opportunity to bring more attention to the 16,136[iii] fatal casualties of ‘Fortress Europe’ immigration policies, so many of those at sea in recent years.  In the meantime, in a tiny gesture of personal solidarity and shared humanity, I will light a candle for Laucling Sonko, to express my grief at the unnecessary and terrible loss of his life.


[i] Amnesty International, ‘Spain:  The Southern Border’, June 2005, cited in Thomas Spijkerboer, ‘The Human Costs of Border Control’ in European Journal of Migration and Law 9 (2007) [ii] Spijkerboer, 2007. [iii] Source:  United Against Racism list of deaths.

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