The Louise Michel, with fire-extinguisher painting by Banksy. AP photo
In a mission cogently defined as "humans helping humans," an international crew of rescue activists are helping save the lives of migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe in a former French navy boat, "as agile as she is pink," funded and decorated - with a fire extinguisher - by the street artist Banksy. The Louise Michel, named for a 19th century French feminist and anarchist, aims to "uphold maritime law and rescue anyone in peril without prejudice...We answer the SOS call of all those in distress, not just to save their souls, but our own." The boat "runs on a flat hierarchy and a vegan diet"; its ten diverse crew members identify as anti-racist and anti-fascist, and because its mission is a feminist project, only female crew members can speak in its name. "It might seem incredible there is need for a homemade emergency vehicle in one of Europe's busiest waterways, but there is," notes Louise Michel's website. It cites an ongoing migrant crisis to which EU states have responded by instructing their coast guards not to answer distress calls from "non- Europeans" - aka black people, often fleeing war-torn Libya - and even preventing other boats from offering aid, thus "leaving desperate people to drift helplessly at sea." During the pandemic, experts say roughly twice as many people have attempted the dangerous journey by often inadequate boat; a report by multiple agencies, titled "On This Journey, No One Cares If You Live or Die," details the human rights abuses many suffer at the hands of smugglers and traffickers. This year, over 500 migrants and refugees have drowned in the Mediterranean - not "unlucky casualties of the elements," activists argue, but of "political decisions and a failure of humanity." Many hope the Louise Michel can be a wake-up call: "There is something that shouldn’t be happening at the very borders of Europe, and you close your eyes to it. Wake up!"
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