Approximately 30,000 could die crossing Mediterranean

April 22, 2015 11:00 am

 Rescuers
pull survivors from the sea after a boat carrying 90 migrants hit rocks
off the island of Rhodes, one of three vessels to sink in the
Mediterranean region. Photo / AP

Up to 30,000 people could drown in the Mediterranean this year unless
urgent action is taken to curb trafficking and rescue stricken boats,
experts warned yesterday.
Politicians across the Union
are scrambling to rethink its policy for dealing with the problem after
an estimated 900 migrants drowned on Sunday when a packed
people-smuggling vessel sailing from Libya to Italy capsized off Malta.
EU member states, which still largely control their own
policies, have been criticised for withdrawing funding late last year
from Italy’s Mare Nostrum search-and-rescue mission, which cost just 9m
($6.5m) a month.
Joel
Millman, of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), said
that the number of migrants killed this year trying to make the crossing
from North Africa to Europe could soon pass the overall total for 2014,
and end the year dwarfing previous figures.

“The 2015 death toll is now more than 30 times last year’s
total at this date… when just 56 deaths of migrants had been reported
on the Mediterranean,” he said. “The IOM now fears that the 2014 total
of 3,279 migrant [deaths] on the Mediterranean may be surpassed in a
matter of weeks, and could well top 30,000 by the end of the year, based
on the current death toll. It could actually be even higher.”
The
deaths of the Middle Eastern and African migrants have prompted some
within the EU to urge that the Mare Nostrum project is restarted.
Others, conscious that domestic electorates are worried about
immigration, insist that greater pressure should be brought to bear on
people-smuggling networks.
Italian officials have suggested that
drones could be employed to attack traffickers’ boats, adopting the kind
of anti-piracy policy that has been successful off the coast of
Somalia. An EU spokeswoman, Natasha Bertaud, confirmed yesterday that
the bloc was considering a “military operation”.
The EU’s
leaders, including the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, will
debate any new measures tomorrow after the European Council President,
Donald Tusk, called an extraordinary summit.
“I do not expect any
quick fix solutions to the root causes of migration, because there are
none,” Mr Tusk said. “Had they existed we would have used them long ago.
But I do expect that the Commission and the European External Action
Service will present options for immediate action. And I do expect
member states to contribute immediately.”
On Monday, the European
Commission presented a 10-point plan that included a provision for
destroying smugglers’ boats off Libya.
The British Government has
yet to comment on the possibility of military action, but it prefers a
policy that concentrates on stopping traffickers. Ministers insist that
search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean act as an incentive to
migrants to risk the journey. However, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s World
At One yesterday, the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, admitted that
there was only anecdotal evidence to support that argument. “There was a
risk that the way the Mare Nostrum operation was being conducted could
have encouraged people to take risks that it was really not safe to
take,” he said.
“It is anecdotal, of course, but when you talk to
people who have been rescued at sea and they clearly have the
impression that they can get on a vessel which is unseaworthy in the
expectation that they will be immediately – within hours – picked up,
that creates some really dangerous perverse incentives.”
Since
the decision to scrap Mare Nostrum, 20,000 people have successfully made
it to EU territory, but at least another 1,500 have drowned.
Aid
agencies and charities called yesterday for urgent action to help
migrants. John Dalhuisen, of Amnesty International, accused EU states of
acting “akin to firefighters refusing to save people jumping from a
towering inferno”.

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