300 migrants died trying to reach Italy this week
Over 300 people have died while attempting to cross the sea from Africa to Italy this week, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says.
The UN agency reported the incident on Wednesday, and reiterated its call on Europe to further develop its border operations, which lack a clear directive in regard to saving migrant lives.
“This is a tragedy on an enormous scale and a stark reminder that more lives could be lost if those seeking safety are left at the mercy of the sea,” said UNHCR Europe Director Vincent Cochetel in a statement.
This week’s death toll includes 29 people who were killed by hypothermia after they were rescued by the Italian coast guard.
The incident has rekindled censure over a decision made by Italy last year to halt full scale search and rescue operations of its coasts.
Among the recent incidents, an Italian boat pulled nine people from the water, the only survivors from two boats which the sea had earlier claimed. A further 200 people are yet to be accounted for.
Two of the boats were part of a four-ship flotilla that had left the shore near the Libyan capital city Tripoli on Saturday, said UNHCR spokeswoman Carlotta Sami.
According to survivors, a third ship which carried some 100 migrants is still missing.
More than 100 people were picked up by the Italian coast guard on Sunday from a fourth boat.
The UNHCR estimated death toll was calculated on the basis of survivors’ reports.
The survivors are mostly from Libya, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Gambia, Niger, Mali, and Mauritania.
“We know what fate we are going towards and the probability of dying… But it is a sacrifice we consciously make to have a future,” a survivor told the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
“What’s happening now is worse than a tragedy — it is a crime, one as bad as any I have seen in 50 years of service,” said IOM Director General William Lacy Swing.
“These smuggling networks act with virtual impunity and hundreds are dying. The world must act,” the director added.
According to the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, the mass drowning stressed the crisis in Libya, where smugglers are known to charge amounts of up to $2,000 for the crossing.
Renzi added that he would bring up the issue during this week’s European Union leaders’ conference in the de facto EU capital Brussels.
“If we are to talk seriously about improving the situation then we also need to talk about financing it adequately,” said European Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud.
On Wednesday, Amnesty International condemned EU countries for “burying their heads in the sand while hundreds keep dying at sea.”