Refugees in the Mediterranean: The worst yet?

WHETHER it was the Mediterranean’s deadliest refugee drowning in decades remains to be seen. But it was certainly terrible, and its political effects could spread far. One of the survivors of a refugee boat that capsized late on the night of April 18th in the waters between Libya and the Italian island of Lampedusa said that at least 700 people had been on board. Just 28 have been rescued so far. That would make it by far the worst maritime disaster in the Mediterranean since World War II.

On April 19th the Italian coast guard sounded a cautionary note on the casualty figures. The boat was just 20 metres long, and while it may have been transporting hundreds of people, it is doubtful whether even the ruthless people-smugglers who dispatch migrants from the Libyan coast could force 700 aboard a vessel of that size. By early afternoon, with 24 bodies recovered, the coast guard said the number of dead might need to be recalculated.

What is beyond doubt, though, is that the migrants crossing the Mediterranean to Europe are dying this year at an unprecedented rate. According to figures released by the Italian interior ministry after the latest disaster, 23,556 people have entered Italy irregularly by sea since January 1st. That is not a big increase over 2014, when the figure for the same period was 20,800. But the death toll, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), has leapt almost tenfold. Even before the latest calamity it stood at 954.

Why? Apart from worse weather, humanitarian aid officials point to two factors. One is the suspension last October of Italy’s Mare Nostrum search-and-rescue mission. It was replaced by Operation Triton, run by the EU’s border control agency, Frontex, which has a much narrower remit to patrol Italy’s territorial waters and a budget of less than a third that of Mare Nostrum.

The second factor is that the smugglers are cramming more and more people on ever more vulnerable craft as they run short of boats. Twice this year, armed smugglers have forcibly taken back boats used to transport migrants and asylum-seekers after their passengers were rescued by other vessels—a sure sign that the boats are becoming more valuable. In the second incident, which took place last Monday, the smugglers fired shots in the air before recovering a wooden craft about 60 nautical miles (111km) from the Libyan coast.

Frontex’s executive director, Fabrice Leggeri, said last month that “anywhere between 500,000 to a million people” were ready to leave from Libya. That would not be surprising: Libya has lapsed into anarchy since the overthrow of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. It has become an especially hellish place for sub-Saharan migrants, who report being robbed, kidnapped and confined to detention centres, where men are often beaten and women raped. But the shortage of boats suggests that a decreasing proportion of those wanting to leave for Europe will be able to do so—and those who do will face an increasingly perilous journey.

What to do? The European Union’s response so far has been remarkably languid. The latest disaster may at last spur it into action. Mr Leggeri has asked for more resources from the EU. And the leaders of member states may be now be prepared to consider a wider remit for Operation Triton. It would foolish to imagine that the migrants and asylum-seekers will stop coming. In lawless Libya and in the migrants’ countries of origin—Syria, Eritrea, Somalia, Mali—the factors pushing them to gamble their lives on a sea crossing to Italy are still in place.

  • Alain

    The truth is that none of them are or were victims. Our actions and decisions always have consequences.

    • dance…dancetotheradio


  • andycanuck

    Is that the S..S Rep. Hank Johnson?

  • P_F

    You can avoid further disasters & loss of human life by Not accepting any more refugees, whoever arrives just deport them ALL, no exceptions.

  • barryjr

    700 people on a 20 metre boat is BS. I worked on 120 ft. boats for years and there is now waay you would fit 700 people on on of those. If all those goatherders insist on standing on one side like the picture I’m surprised those boats don’t all roll over.

    • tom_billesley

      You can’t send one ship to the rescue. You have to send two, so they rush to both sides and keep the boat on an even keel. I’d guess that quietly standing in line wouldn’t be part of their culture.

      • Gaian

        One naval ship can tow the boat back to where it came from. An amphibious vehicle can beach it. No contact with the criminals on the vessel needs to be made.

    • mobuyus

      It all depends how thin you slice them.

  • bob e

    solution to boat people is easier than what
    the italians are gonna be facing in a very short time..

  • k1962

    I feel very bad for the Christians trying to flee. They are thrown off boats to their death or captured by Muslim terrorists and shot in the head or beheaded. As far as I am concerned Europe should send the Muslims back to their umma and only take the Christians for whom the trek to Libya is truly dangerous.

    • tom_billesley

      Turning around and heading to South Africa rather than Europe doesn’t seem a much safer bet these days.

    • Islamonauseated

      The obvious problem with this scenario is that Muslims will pretend to be Christians to spread the plague of Islam into Eurabia and beyond. I do share your sentiment, however, but am not convinced authorities could sort the Christians from the muzz.

      • mobuyus

        Quite easy with bacon.

        • Islamonauseated

          Ah, the old bacon test! Go for it! Force ’em but the muzzies would still do anything for the “higher good” of murdering the infidels.

          • mobuyus

            Ok how about have them hug a Jew?

  • Canadian

    As members of an invading force, they will get their 72 garbage bags anyway.
    Better sooner than later.

  • pop

    Invaders choice to take that boat.

  • pop

    Ps. If any invader tried to engage in conversation with me, I’d ignore them.

  • wallyj180

    Was it an accident, or an act of God ?

    • tom_billesley

      Possibly neither. I wonder if deliberately sinking a couple of boats would be one way to get Mare Nostrum up and runniing again to pick up the trafficker’s cargo closer to Libya? I’m such a cynic.

  • tom_billesley

    700 people packed standing up each with a space 0.3m deep and 0.6m wide fills a rectangle 21m long and 6m wide. No way they’d fit the boat.

    • mobuyus

      Lots of them are skinnies.

  • Hard Little Machine

    Part of the problem is the EU’s own laws. They are prohibited from turning anyone back and prohibited from shipping anyone to another EU country regardless of the capacity of the first country to handle them. Soon there will be more ‘refugees’ in Malta than citizens of Malta. In my mind Sweden should send every naval vessel they can grab and gather up all these people and take them to their new homes in The World’s Moral Superpower as they claim they are. Sweden is planning on taking in 100,000 more ‘refugees’ from the Mideast so clearly they should also take in 100,000 or more from North Africa.

    • Gaian

      Now there’s thought. The islamic trash already in Sweden will look upon black islamics as slaves and inferiors and maybe they will kill each other off.
      islamics are outrageous racists (even when both sides are islamics).

  • pdxnag

    If it is viewed as accidental then the tide of invasion will not ebb. Someone should claim that the sinking was deliberate (and that it will happen again).

  • Gaian

    By accepting any of these illegals into their countries then Europe has opened the their doors to invasion. You let one in then they all come running for a handout. These people have ruined their own countries and should be working to repair the damage they have done to their own places. If Europe wants a piece of the pie then they should wipe out the African governments and install European governors to bring order to those countries. No migration from Africa should be allowed.