Lampedusa

Almost 650 migrants have died in what has been called the worst human trafficking disaster in the Mediterranean’s history.

ROME – Hundreds of people are feared to have drowned after a boat en route to Europe carrying a large number of migrants capsized in the Mediterranean Sea, 60 km off Libyan shores, south of the Italian island of Lampedusa.

The actual number of casualties is hard to gauge, but so far 50 survivors have been rescued and 24 dead bodies have been recovered out of 700 reported passengers. The Italian, Maltese and Libyan Navy Coast Guards are active in the rescue and body search operation along with helicopters and other vessels.

Mediterranean waters are witnessing the largest migration numbers in history since World War II, due to war, political instability and abject poverty in the oil-rich Middle East and fertile Africa. According to latest figures by UN Refugee agency, 13,500 migrants landed on Italian coasts last week alone.

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Since the start of 2014, Italy has rescued nearly 200,000 people at sea, including 11,000 arrivals this week alone. About 238,000 crossed the Mediterranean from Africa and the Middle East last year mostly through Libyan ports because of their proximity to Italian islands. Thousands of migrants have lost their lives in the Mediterranean waters.

A significant number of these migrants are children abandoned by poverty-stricken parents in the hope of a better life for the next generation. Exploiting the poverty and conflict-driven populations, human trafficking gangs are openly operating the vessels without proper safety consideration.

UNHCR declared the event the largest loss of life during a migrant crossing to Europe. More than 900 migrants have already sacrificed their lives in the first three months of 2015.

Various EU leaders and prominent figures have expressed concerns over the constant loss of precious lives during migration and have criticised the European Union, pushing them to terminate the Maritime Rescue operation last year.

“These are men and women like us who seek a better life. Hungry, persecuted, injured, exploited, victims of wars. They were looking for happiness,” said Pope Francis.

French President Francois Hollande said the EU had to do more. The President spoke to a local TV Channel, saying that rescue and disaster prevention efforts needed “more boats, more overflights and a much more intense battle against people trafficking.”

A number of factors can be attributed to resulting in extensive human suffering, leading to tragedies like this to occur, including: climatic changes related to drought and famine, the American “war against terror” which results in an inevitable rise of extremism and Islamist insurgencies, the functional failure of the Arab spring, and the breakout of multi-factional war in various parts of the Middle East.

But perhaps this is only one side of the story. These disasters are also the logical results of EU-US protectionist policies in trade and agriculture. These policies, supported by international institutions like World Trade Organisation and the World Bank under the pretence of free trade, are responsible for ruining economies of the third world.

The crisis is knocking at the Western doorstep, yet the underlying causes are far from being evaluated by major global players.

Tazeen Hasan, Correspondent (Africa, Europe)

Image Courtesy: Noborder Network (https://www.flickr.com/photos/noborder/2495544558), Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic | Flickr; Wikimedia Commons

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