The Guardian: "UN says 800 migrants dead in boat disaster as Italy launches rescue of two more vessels"

by Joseph McKeown

A shipwreck this past weekend off the coast of Libya has led to the death of 800 migrants and has prompted calls for the European Union to address the worsening migrant crisis in Europe. The boat, which set sail from Tripoli and is one of many unseaworthy vessels that human smugglers use, contained nationals of Gambia, Ivory Coast, Somalia, Eritrea, Mali, Tunisia, Sierra Leone, Bangladesh and Syria, and included children between the ages of ten and twelve. With only a reported twenty-seven survivors, it is the worst such disaster in the Mediterranean Sea. Italian authorities arrested a Tunisian man who is believed to be the captain of the boat as well as a Syrian national, who were charged with human trafficking and the captain also charged with reckless multiple homicide. The overall migrant death toll in the Mediterranean Sea this year has already surpassed 1,500 victims—a drastic increase from the same period last year. The record number of migrants including children seeking haven in Europe is reminiscent of the US/Mexico border surge and crisis last year.

Italian rescuer Vincenzo Bonomo told La Repubblica: "'It was a sight that broke the hearts of even men of the sea like us. I saw children’s shoes, clothing, backpacks floating in the water. Every time we saw a shoe or a bag, any sign of life, we thought we might have found a survivor. But every time we were disappointed. It was heart-breaking[.]'"

In response, the European Union agreed after emergency meetings to launch military operations against the networks of smugglers in Libya deemed responsible for sending thousands of people to their deaths in the Mediterranean in addition to increasing maritime patrols as well as naval search-and-rescue missions. Anas el-Gomati, a researcher at the Sadeq Institute, a Libyan think-tank, questioned the effectiveness of the European response: "'Military action is a deterrent; it’s not a substitute for a coherent and robust policy...It will do nothing to stop the flow of migrants coming from sub-Saharan Africa and address the reasons as to why they choose to take a perilous route such as the western coast of Libya.'"

Nigerian refugee Hakim Bello, who previously survived the dangerous sea voyage and now lives in Berlin, called the Mediterranean Sea "the deadliest border in the world" and tried to explain what motivates migrants to undertake the dangerous journey: "We all have different reasons for doing it: some people think they’ll find a better life in Europe, others just want to get away from a war zone. But everyone feels they have no other option."

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat of Malta said: "'What happened on Sunday was a game changer...There is a new realization that if Europe doesn’t act as a team, history will judge it very harshly, as it did when it closed its eyes to stories of genocide—horrible stories—not long ago.'"