Across the Middle East and surrounding African countries, turmoil is raging. The eyes of the world are watching videos of ethnic and cultural cleansing as it drives thousands of refugees outside of their homes, their cities, or their countries. They are forced to the roads, or onto boats where they risk everything for one chance to escape with their lives.
Three days ago the deadliest Mediterranean migrants tragedy claimed 800 lives out of an estimated 850 passengers, according to UN’s figures. Meanwhile, yesterday the coast guard reported that it saved some 638 migrants in six different rescue operations on Monday alone. Today, a further 446 people were rescued from a leaking migrant ship about 80 miles (130 kilometers) south of the Calabrian coast.
Migrating from a desperate situation to another is not recent for these lives on the run. The unprecedented aggravation of the Syrian civil war, the growing number of jihadist-death-worshippers-fanatics, like Daech (Isil), Boko Haram, Al-Shabab, and Al-Aqaida affiliates displaced population at a rate never seen since WWII. Today, 51.2 million refugees haunt the world.
It’ s been four years now that the Island of Lampedusa, in the Southernmost part of Italy, considers itself under siege, invaded by a swelling flow of migrants arriving from Africa, Middle East and Asia; creating a colossal and unmanageable humanitarian crisis. It became overwhelming for little Lampedusa and Italy mainland to deal with the problem. A majority of European Countries didn’t address the emergency, while overcrowded boats continued to capsize. In July 2013, Pope Francis went to the island on his first official visit outside of Rome. He prayed for migrants, living and dead, and denounced their traffickers, after a boat carrying over 500 migrants sank off the coast of Lampedusa causing the death of some 366 migrants from Eritrea and Somalia. After this episode Italy launched a robust and expensive search-and-rescue mission. The politically unpopular Mare Nostrum operation ended last year, replaced by the European Mission Agency’s Frontex border patrol. Unfortunately, its limited mandate and resources have prevented it from being effective in saving lives.
It ensues that traffickers are not impress and thrive. To maximize their revenue they pack over the gills, ” from rubber Zodiac-type boats to wooden fishing vessels and even old cargo ships; charging 1,000 and 1,500 euros for the crossing from Libya, where most trafficking operations originate.”
Although, some migrants are taking less risky pathways. ” Police in Ragusa, a Sicilian port town, said they arrested three Syrians who were in charge of a 83-foot Turkish-flagged luxury yacht, which charged passengers $8,500 a piece to travel from Turkey to Sicily. Among the Syrian and Palestinian passengers were 23 children. Photos snapped by passengers helped police identify the crew of smugglers, police said in a statement. They estimated that the organizers were paid some $800,000 in total for the trip”, reports AP
According to the UN Refugees Agency Since the beginning of 2015 more than 35,000 made the crossing, and 1,600 (and counting) died. In 2014, they were 219,000 to cross and 3,500 lost their lives. The total number of deaths this year “could well top 30,000,” said Joel Millman, spokesman for IOM. “We just want to make sure people understand how much more … rapid these deaths have been coming this year than last year.”
“A mass grave is being created in the Mediterranean Sea and European policies are responsible,” said Loris De Filippi, Doctor Without Borders president. “Faced with thousands of desperate people fleeing wars and crises, Europe has closed borders, forcing people in search of protection to risk their lives and die at sea. There is no more time to think, these lives must be saved now. Ending the Mare Nostrum operation was a serious mistake. European States must immediately launch large-scale search and rescue operations, with proactive patrolling as close as possible to Libyan shores. The current means are obviously not enough. This tragedy is only just beginning, but it can and should be stopped.”
Over the past week alone, more than 11,000 people have risked their lives to cross the Mediterranean, and more than a thousand have reportedly died. Regardless of how high Europe builds its fences and how many obstacles are placed in the way, devastating conflicts and crises will continue to force people to flee their countries in order to save their lives, said MSF.
“Seven hundred deaths in a day are figures from a war zone,” said De Filippi. “This humanitarian tragedy is now under everyone’s eyes but Europe is not willing to address it. This is why we will begin first-hand operations at sea, in an attempt to save as many lives possible. Only creating safe and legal channels to protection in Europe will truly prevent thousands more deaths. But as a medical-humanitarian organization, we simply cannot wait any longer.”
Two years and thousands death after the Pope visit, it seems like the International community got the message. Combatting the smugglers by arresting the ringleaders and destroying their boats will be the key part of Europe’s 10-point proposal for an emergency summit in Brussels Thursday.
So far, Italy has arrested more than 1,000 smugglers, most of them the navigators, not the masterminds.
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©GlobalReportage2015 /UN Refugees Agency/AP