“Hello Father, The Boat is Sinking, So I Will Die.”
Eric Reidy

Reading the excellent Ghost Boat articles reminded me that English doesn’t have a specific word for the kind of boat normally used for people smuggling. In Spanish you have the word ‘patera’ — originally denoting a very specific type of precarious fishing boat without a keel. It’s now any boat used by refugees to get to southern Europe. The word ‘patera’ sadly conjures up a whole set of images to a Spaniard: of tiny boats full of half-dead people reaching the Canary Islands, of boats sinking between Morocco and the Andalusian coast. Since childhood, I’ve become accustomed to seeing these heartbreaking scenes in the news.
I wonder if eventually the English media will import ‘patera’ as shorthand for the ongoing tragedy, in the same way that ‘intifada’ and ‘jihad’ are shorthand for other conflicts. The problem is of course that you risk becoming immune to such condensation. The word ‘patera’ comes with its own set of expectations, perversely reassuring precisely because it’s a familiar narrative.

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