My Experience on an Italian/Tunisian Ferry Boat

During the summer of 2009 my wife and I took a ferry boat from Palermo, Italy to Tunis, Tunisia. Two weeks later we returned on the same ferry boat. We did not want to pay full price for a luxury cruise liner, so instead we opted for the migrant worker ferry boat, which saved us about 100 euros per ticket. During my two boat rides I was surprised at the lack of respect given to migrant workers on our Italian Ferry boat.
When we arrived at the dock I read the instructions provided to us on our ticket, which told us to find the line to facilitate the paperwork for international travel. I noticed that instead of a line, one big mosh pit of mostly Tunisian men was slowly making its way to the registry.  People were screaming, pushing, and shouting. It did not occur to me at the time that there were no Europeans in the line. My wife and I did not understand what was going on. It was about 95 degrees outside, and without any clouds in the sky the sun blared down on our faces. The heat was intensified because we were pushed around, like pinballs in a sea of sweaty men. I inched closer and closer to the registration desk, but after swimming in male perspiration for two hours, my wife could not take it anymore. She screamed at the top of her lungs in French, praying that Tunisians would understand. She said that she could not take it anymore, and she asked why they could not make a line. In response, one of the Tunisian men said that the Italians were racist, and that they were not processing their paperwork for them at the rate that they ought to. I thought it was a strange response. In respect for the only woman willing to fight the mosh pit, they allowed us to go in front of the line.
Like the line we had to wait in, the boat was overcrowded, hot, and questionably sanitary. People slept on the floor of the ship, and newspaper was a commodity, used as a mattress. The line for the toilets extended around the boat, and there was no toilet paper. Despite these unusual circumstances, my wife and I wondered how the Tunisian men could justify calling Italian officials racist. We later found out. On the boat we learned while we were waiting for our paperwork to be processed on the docks that there was, in fact, another line reserved for those who had “green” passports. Green passports are possessed by members of the European Union. Middle Easterners use red passports. We may have been the only people on the boat with a blue passport.  We arrived in Tunisia, and were excited to leave the boat and enjoy the remainder of our trip.
Two weeks later we arrived at the Tunisian dock, and found that the waiting room was air conditioned, and that the service was very good. All people were treated equally regardless of the color of their passport. We ascended the boat and departed back to Sicily. About two hours before arrival, one of the staff members announced on the intercom that all those who had a green passport were to form a line on one side of the boat, and those with a red passport were to form a line on the other side. Again, what was a person with a blue passport to do? We asked a staff member. The attendant eyed me up and down (note: I am a blue-eyed, blonde haired, and fair skinned individual), and then told me to join the green passport line.
Initially we thought that they separated us because there was a special way to process passports depending on the color. As we descended the boat, we realized that not one person with a red passport had yet been processed. We heard yelling and screaming in Arabic, French, and Italian from the mob that remained on the other side of the boat, waiting to descend.
I find the recent sinking of the Migrant Ferry near Lampedusa to be tragic and saddening. However, what I find even more predictably remorseful is the disparity between the coverage between this story, where 150 migrants (mostly Middle Eastern) passed away, and the sinking of the Costa Concordia, a name everyone now knows, where 30 people passed away, most of the victims being European.  Of the four articles I read regarding this most recent tragedy, not one mentioned the name of the carrier involved, nor the name of the boat. I would like to find out so I may learn if that was the same boat that I traveled on four years ago.
Brian King, Mesa, AZ.


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