Pateh Sabally’s Death: What is the Point in Rescuing a Mere Migrant?

Pateh Sabally, a 22 year-old Gambian refugee, died in the Grand Canal of Venice on Saturday 21st January. After the death of the Nigerian Emmanuel Chidi in July 2016 beaten by racists in Fermo, Italy has again become the theatre for another barbaric racist act.Pateh Sabally's death conveys something about our time; it demonstrates what Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil”. In 2017, a young man drowned while bystanders and tourists were laughing. They let him die while hurling racist insults at him.  No one attempted to rescue him, but some picked up their phone to shoot the scene, you know, to “be there when it happens”. Inhumanity has reached a scary dimension through the mediation of cruelty.It is a tragic spectacle that Europe shows. The same Europe which keeps claiming to be a model of democracy, freedom and respect for human dignity all the day long. The Old Continent keeps lecturing Africa on morality about election and the conflicts which wreck our countries. But the way it treats migrants and refugees who are running away from atrocities, is nothing but degrading.

What is the point of rescuing a mere migrant?

Those Venetians and those tourists would have jumped to rescue anything, even a camera. Thus, their guilty behaviour results from the persistence, in Europe, of a certain discourse drummed by the press on the danger that others embody these include migrants, refugee or a simple foreigner. There are plenty of qualifiers used to refer to these people and they all show total disregard, these include  “Negro”, “invader”, “world’s misery”, “job thieves” …

Media channels have reported Pateh Sabally’s tragedy by invoking the indifference in which his death occurred. The expression is false. The young man died under the conscious sniggering of people which are nothing but indifferent. He was only a migrant, what was the point in rescuing him? They said to themselves! Others are going to die, regretfully. Just have a look at the debates in Europe: a politician says such outrageous things about the foreigners, refugees, Muslims and still enjoys a surge in popularity. Elsewhere, physical and symbolic barriers are being erected against those who were not born in the right country or who don’t have the right religious persuasion.

A wave of xenophobia is sweeping across the Western World that reminds us of the darkest days of our history. Tempers will not be calmed by the decree signed on January, 27, by Donald Trump, which bans the USA entrance for nationals from seven countries, including three Africans one : Somalia, Libya, Sudan.

Nothing can foretell when the horror cycle will end. On the contrary, we get caught by the verbal and murderous escalation which is the underlying cause of Emmanuel Chidi and Pateh Sabally’s death, who were trying to escape Boko Haram and Yahya Jammeh’s dark regime, respectively. Their death will be a burden on the mind of all those who, each day, point finger at others as the problem. That is the shame of Europe and the executioner of our young exiles.

Translated by:

Mame Thiaba Diagne