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04/05/2015

Italy’s PM, Matteo Renzi, has compared the smuggling of migrants across the Mediterranean to the trade in African captives, which officially ended in 1807. He said: “When we say we are in the presence of slavery we are not using the word just for effect. The point is that we can’t accept this kind of trade in human lives.” In 1783, following the Zong massacre in the Atlantic, which saw the murder of 132 Africans at sea, there was a major debate about whether or not Africans were goods/chattels and therefore whether the ship’s owners were liable for compensation for their loss. The arguments may have changed but Renzi has made the point that African people dying horrifically as captives at sea (for hundreds were locked in the hold) shames us all and makes a mockery of the “progress” of the intervening 200-odd years, as well as shining a glaring spotlight on shortsighted and inadequate western foreign policy decisions.