The crime at Lampedusa Island

A boat crowded with 500 refugees that had left from a port in Libya foundered off Italy’s Lampedusa island, located 130 miles south of Sicily. According to media reports, someone set a blanket on fire to call attention to their plight. The fire spread, driving the refugees to overload one side of the ship, capsizing and sinking it.

Only 155 people have been rescued. The more than 300 others are feared dead.

A tragedy? Yes. But more than a tragedy, it is another crime of the Italian government and the European Union toward the millions of refugees, most of them Africans, who are fleeing their countries to seek asylum, to seek work, to seek a life in Europe. In the last 20 years, at least 20,000 of these migrants have lost their lives in shipwrecks and similar tragedies while crossing the Mediterranean.

Italian law allows the courts to fine the 155 survivors up to 5,000 euros each for illegal immigration. That in itself tells us how vicious European immigration ­policy is.

The situation leading to this massacre of human beings is similar to that on the U.S.-Mexico border. There, millions try to cross each year, either seeking asylum or simply seeking work. Over the last 10 years about 400 people a year have been counted as killed on the journey. That figure doesn’t include those lost in the desert.

The homelands of the African migrants to Europe had first been pillaged by the slave trade and then underdeveloped by the exploiting classes in the colonial countries, whose own industrial development was financed by this plunder. You can find European ruling-class crimes that contributed to this recent tragedy by going back 100, 200 or 400 years.

But you don’t need to look that far back. Only two years ago, the U.S. and NATO manufactured a pretext to bomb Libya and destroy the sovereign government that ran that country under the leadership of Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

The former Libyan government kept some control of its energy reserves and had a cash reserve of some $150 billion, much of which it put into African-based banks — the African Investment Bank, the African Central Bank and the African Monetary Fund. Such banks made Africa less dependent on the imperialists.

Libya also provided a per-capita income of $13,000, the highest in Africa, to its 6 million citizens. Even the poorest residents had much more than the poor of other African countries. Some 1.5 million Egyptians were working in Libya in 2010, along with more than a half-million migrants from sub-Saharan ­Africa. These workers supported millions of ­people with the money they sent home.

The U.S.-NATO predatory war, with mercenaries and 10,000 bombing runs, destroyed Libya. They left a mostly broken state that provides no jobs for foreigners and few for Libyans. This imperialist adventure leaves millions of people with no choice but to attempt a very dangerous voyage.

The same U.S. and European rulers who waged war on Libya and who promote repressive immigration laws have also weaponized the aggression against Syria. This too has created millions of refugees, who are beginning to try to escape to Europe. Some Syrians were on the ship that capsized off ­Lampedusa, the first of a new wave of desperate ­asylum seekers. n