Hundreds feared drowned as 'smuggling season' begins

Hundreds feared drowned as 'smuggling season' begins
2 min read
15 April, 2015
Survivors report 400 died after boat capsized on Sunday in the Mediterranean - one of the worst single tolls on record - while NGOs criticise EU patrol mission.
Italian coastguards intercepted 42 boats on 12-13 April, carrying 6,500 migrants [Anadolu/Getty]

About 400 migrants are feared drowned after their boat capsized as they attempted to cross the Mediterranean.

Evidence collected by NGOs and relief groups from some of the estimated 145 survivors said the boat overturned on Sunday, a day after it set off from Libya.

The toll brings the numbers drowned this year to 900, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council - 18 times more than the number drowned by this time last year.

More than 8,000 migrants have been rescued in Italian waters since the start of April. Most were leaving from Libya. According to the International Organisation for Migration in Italy, "the 2015 migrant smuggling season has resumed in full force".

Save the Children has said that about 450 of the survivors were children, 317 of whom were unaccompanied by an adult.

The latest disaster has raised a clamour of calls for a change to European policy on Mediterrean rescue patrols.

The Italian navy's operation, Mare Nostrum, was stopped in November and replaced by Triton, an EU mission.

Mare Nostrum was a "search and rescue" mission, while Triton is more of a border patrol operation that does not patrol deep water - where disasters often occur.

Triton costs $3.2m per month to run, while Mare Nostrum used to cost about $10m.

     This past weekend would be among the deadliest few days...
Judith Sunderland, HRW.

"The unbearable number of lives lost at sea will only grow if the EU doesn't act now to ensure search-and-rescue operations across the Mediterranean," said Judith Sunderland, an acting deputy director at Human Rights Watch.

"If the reports are confirmed, this past weekend would be among the deadliest few days in the world’s most dangerous stretch of water for migrants and asylum seekers," she said. 

The Norwegian Refugee Council also criticised Triton's shortcomings: "It is time to bring back the search and rescue capacity of Mare Nostrum, this time as a collective European effort”, said Jan Egeland, the NRC's secretary general.

Triton critics say the mission has failed to dissuade people from making the journey. The IOM calculates that there have been more than 19,000 arrivals into Europe in 2015 so far - and these are only the survivors.

Amnesty campaigner Matteo de Bellis told al-Araby al-Jadeed in February: "What we're seeing is an increased number of migrants with a lower number of resources."

"There is a clear moral flaw... You can't let people drown just to deter others."