EU countries should be hanging their heads in shame following reports published on Tuesday morning showing that as many as 300 migrants are believed to have died in the Mediterranean off the Italian island of Lampedusa. This tradgedy calls for the world to act, after yet another disaster in a perilous crossing from Africa to Europe.
On Monday 29 migrants died, mostly of hypothermia, after Italian coastguards rescued them from an inflatable dinghy carrying over 100 people. According to reports in Italian media, nine survivors from that incident were brought to Lampedusa where they informed the coastguard that more than 200 migrants were on two other dinghies. A third dinghy, according to still unconfirmed reports, is said to have disappeared with no survivors, carrying a further estimated 100 people to their deaths.
The dinghies were believed to be drifting in extreme sea conditions with waves as high as eight metres and temperatures just a few degrees above zero, according to coastguards’ statements. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, those who died were believed to be between 18- and 25-years-old and from sub-Saharan Africa.
“This is a tragedy on an enormous scale and a stark reminder that more lives could be lost if those seeking safety are left at the mercy of the sea,” said UNHCR Europe director Vincent Cochetel in a statement.
Italy ended its search-and-rescue operation “Mare Nostrum” last year. The EU’s replacement operation known as “Triton”, which is significantly reduced in scale, is not focused on search-and-rescue and does not routinely operate in international waters.
John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Director at Amnesty International, said:
“This new tragedy realises our worst fears about the end of Italy’s Mare Nostrum search-and-rescue operation, and exposes the predictable consequences of the European Union’s failure to provide an adequate replacement.
“The humanitarian crisis that sparked the need for Mare Nostrum has not gone away. With people continuing to flee war and persecution, EU member states must stop burying their heads in the sand whilst hundreds keep dying at sea.
“It’s a simple equation – as the number of people taking this perilous sea route goes up and the resources put into search-and-rescue go down, more people will die.
“It’s possible the Italian coastguards did what they could with the resources they had. They were clearly not enough. Unless EU member states commit to significantly increasing search-and-rescue capacity in the central Mediterranean, tragedies like these will only multiply.”
According to the UN Refugee Agency, the number of irregular migrants arriving by sea last month increased by around 60% compared with the January last year, when Mare Nostrum was in place.
This makes a mockery, said Amnesty, of suggestions that the search-and-rescue operation – whose demise was widely publicised – was encouraging migrants to take this dangerous route.