More than 900 migrants are feared dead after a boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea on 19 April. The 20-metre-long fishing boat capsized off the Libyan coast as a large merchant ship approached it. It was filled with refugees attempting to escape turmoil in Africa and the Middle East.
A survivor told the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office that around 700 people on board moved to one side hoping it would save them. This toppled the boat.
On-going efforts to collect the bodies have so far found only 28 survivors. The UN has confirmed 800 deaths, but it is likely that the exact total will never be known.
As Italian rescue ships were attempting to aid survivors, another distress call was received as a second migrant vessel crashed near the Greek island of Rhodes.
The event brings the number of refugees who have died trying to reach Europe this year to around 1600. Last year, 3500 migrants died attempting to reach Europe.
This has been labelled the worst migrant shipwreck in history.
The tragedy has put pressure on the European Union (EU) to raise funds to help those involved, as well as to possibly reevaluate its immigration policy.
Interior ministers and senior police officials from the 28 countries of the EU met in Luxembourg for what was meant to be a routine meeting but turned into a crisis session recognising the need for urgent action to be taken.
Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy said in a press statement: “With this latest tragedy … we have no more excuses … the main issue here is to build a common sense of European responsibility.”
The recent events have led the EU to plan military action against those who organise people-trafficking voyages.
The EU’s Triton Patrolling Service will be reinforced, and attempts have been made to obtain a military mandate to destroy people smugglers’ vessels. These actions are part of 10-point plan by the EU to combat current immigration patterns.
“The dire situation in the Mediterranean is not a new nor passing reality … the 10 actions we have agreed upon today are the direct substantial measures we will take to make an immediate difference,” said Mogherini.
The decision to take military action has not gone without criticism. UN Security-General Ban Ki-moon has urged the EU to reconsider taking military action in order to prevent future migrant death. “There is no military solution to the tragedy in the Mediterranean,” he said in a press statement. “What is crucial is to have a global approach that takes into account the roots of the problem, the security and human rights of migrants and refugees, such as having immigration channels that are legal and regular,” he said.
Karim Lahidji, the President of the International Federation for Human Rights echoed Ban Ki-moon’s sentiment. “As long as legal and safe channels of access to the EU are not established, these people will continue to brave the sea in search of protection and a better life, and the bodies will continue to pile up on Europe’s border,” said Lahidji in a press statement.
Flavio Di Giacomo, a member of the International Organization for Migration, believes that military action could endanger many more refugees and migrants, as he said in a press statement: “If you destroy the boats so that migrants cannot leave, they are then stuck in Libya, which is in crisis.”
170,000 migrants arrived in Europe from Libya in 2014, and around 25,000 have so far made the journey this year.