Cyprus 15 May 2019.

In 1453, Constantinople—the capital of the Greek-speaking Byzantine Empire—fell to the Ottoman Turks.  The Turks already had conquered most of mainland Greece, so all that remained was to conquer the outlying islands.  Cyprus fell in 1571 and Crete followed in 1669.  As part of their pacification of Cyprus, the Ottomans resettled about 30,000 Turks on the island.  From the heights of their power, the Ottomans went into a long, slow, and humiliating decline.  Barbarism and incompetence became the hallmarks of their rule.  “Inter-communal” hostilities sank deep roots.  Turks and Greeks hated each other.  In 1878, Britain got the island away from the Ottomans.

During the 1950s–when the “Empire on which the sun never sets” was having gin and tonic in the back garden as dusk advanced—Greeks and Turks on Cyprus began to strike at each other and at the British.  Both Greece and Turkey coveted the soon-to-be-independent island.  So, blood stained the Fifties and Sixties in Cyprus.[1] Then the conflict heated up again in the 1970ss and 1980s.  Vendetta became a cultural value and killers became respected men.

You wouldn’t recognize modern Cyprus.  Tourism, banking, and maritime shipping are the pillars supporting its economy.  The country has pulled in an estimated 60,000 workers from South East Asia.  They come from the Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and India.  They aren’t “crazy rich Asians.”  Mostly they are poor women from counties that haven’t yet caught the tide of Capitalist progress.  Old ways die hard.  Sometimes the old intersects the new.

Mary Rose Tiburcio (c.1980-2018) grew up in the Philippines.  She got married and had a child, but her marriage did not work out.  Like many other Filipinas, Tiburcio moved to Cyprus along with her young daughter.  Most come to work as domestic help: maids and cleaning women, and waitresses.  Lonely and over-loaded with cares, she joined an on-line dating site.

In May 2018, both went missing.  Well, no big deal: the Cypriot police have 80 unsolved missing person cases that run back as far as 1990.  Perhaps they just left Cyprus for work on a cruise ship or went to some other country in search of better work.

Then, in mid-April 2019, a German tourist saw something unusual and notified the police.  The police found Tiburcio’s body in a flooded mine-shaft.  They also found another body, that of Arian Palanas Lozano (1990-2018).  Then they found more bodies in a lake.

The police back-tracked through Ms. Tiburcio’s internet connections.  One name that popped up an awful lot of times was that of a 35 year-old Army captain.  He was questioned and eventually confessed to seven murders.  No one thinks that that toll will stop there.  As a result of his confession, police found the body of a Nepalese woman buried on a military firing-range.[2]

This sad case illustrates some of the features of contemporary globalization.  Even among the rapidly-developing economies of South Asia, many people—especially women—get left out.  Huge numbers of people—many of them women from less developed areas–migrate in search of a better life.  Whether legal or illegal migrants, they perform essential, menial tasks and are prey to many kinds of abuse.  Finally, the “sending” countries have neither the means nor the inclination to protect their citizens abroad.  They are in the wind.

[1] See:

[2] “Cyprus in Shock After a String of Killings,” NYT, 28 April 2019; Megan Specia, “Authorities in Cyprus Face Reckoning After Migrant Workers’ Killings,” NYT, 3 May 2019.

The owl and the pussycat 2.

After Libya collapsed, power passed to the hands of various militia groups.[1] Politics soon merged with crime. Italian criminal organizations—the Mafia—struck a deal with many of the militia commanders to move people from Libya to Italy. Some 31 percent are refugees from the civil war in Syria. Some are refugees from Iraq, either from the earlier fighting following the American invasion or from the more recent disaster following the rise of ISIS. Most are “economic refugees” from the failed or failing states of Sahelian Africa. In 2014, about 170,000 illegal immigrants paid an estimated $170 million to reach Europe from Libya.

Responsibility for dealing with this problem fell first to the Italians. After 300 migrants drowned near the island of Lampedusa in October 2013, the Italian Navy and Coast Guard launched Operation “Mare Nostrum.”  Italian vessels collected about 140,000 migrants during 2014. The death toll fell from 300 in October 2013 to 56 in April 2014.

While this might be regarded as a remarkable humanitarian achievement, not everyone was best pleased. “Mare Nostrum” (“Our Sea”) cost almost $10 million a month at a time when Italy was trying to fend off recession and imposing a degree of budget austerity. Operation “Mare Nostrum” started to look like Operation “Tasse Nostrum” (“Our Taxes”). Northern Europeans weren’t happy with Italy serving as an open door for illegal immigrants. The Navy landed the immigrants in mainland Italy. Most of them then continued their search for better lives by heading for Northern Europe.[2] Britain argued that “Mare Nostrum” created a kind of insurance policy for the migrants: the boats might not be sea-worthy, but the captains could always hunt up a rescue ship soon after leaving port. Once they were “rescued,” the migrants were put ashore in a country that maintained no serious watch over their further movements. Inevitably, they flooded North. These arguments resonated with other EU countries. When the Italian government asked the European Union for financial assistance, the EU called on the Italians to stop giving the immigrants a free lift. “Mare Nostrum” ended with the return of winter weather to the Mediterranean.

In place of “Mare Nostrum,” the EU both strengthened its controls on land border and launched “Operation Triton.” “Triton” restricted the rescue zone of naval patrols to within 30 miles of the Italian coast. “Make it more dangerous. That’ll stop them.”   It didn’t.

By early 2015, perhaps as many as a million potential immigrants were waiting in Libya to cross the Mediterranean to Italy. In economic terms, Demand vastly outstrips Supply. There are critical shortages of vessels, crews, and competent captains. Older and smaller vessels are used, crewed by men working beyond their skill-level, and packed to the gun-whales with passengers. A ticket on one of these death traps has risen from $1,000 in 2014 to $2,000 today.

Over-loaded and under-ballasted vessels are top heavy. Even passenger movements can lead to a capsizing, but so can heavy seas or a collision with another vessel or taking on water. In the first four months of 2015, an estimated 1,750 people drowned from the sinking of boats carrying illegal immigrants from North Africa to Europe.

The appalling death-toll caused an up-roar and a belated response from the EU. Two realities present themselves. First, while an aging Europe needs immigrants, the cultural resistance to increased diversity is very strong. Second, the core problem here is the failure of many African states to provide security and prosperity to their citizens. Even taking the risks of crossing the Sahara, then crossing the Mediterranean seems preferable.

[1] “Europe’s migrant crisis,” The Week, 8 May 2015, p. 11.

[2] A further 45,000 reached Europe by other routes.