On Sunday, the harrowing news reverberated around the world that hundreds of migrants drowned off the coast of Libya en route to Europe when their boat – not suitable for transport across the vast Mediterranean – capsized. As many as 700 people are feared dead, but the death toll could escalate as more information is attained by authorities.
This is not the first time that hundreds of northern African migrants have died on the perilous seafaring journey to a haven of tolerance and freedom and most of all peace and security for them. As more African countries – particularly Eritrea, Libya, Niger, Sudan, and Somalia – are accused of mistreatment of their citizens or who do not offer their citizens a peaceful way of life – thousands more are taking the chance to live a more peaceful and prosperous life despite the dangerous journey.
Save the Children is calling upon the European Union to “restart the rescues” to ensure that men, women, and especially children reach European shores without the threat of being stranded in the Mediterranean or drowned to death.
The European Union, however, enacted a staunch policy to stop all rescues arguing that coming to the aid of migrants who are being shuffled to Europe in droves by traffickers incite increasingly more trips, more rescues, and ultimately more deaths.
The Mare Nostrum European Union search and rescue operation ended in November 2014 according to Save the Children. Now, Italian border control is in charge of rescue missions.
Justin Forsyth, Save the Children CEO, said: “Our political leaders cannot ignore the fact that without search and rescue we are allowing thousands of innocent children and their families to drown off the coast of Europe.
“Whoever makes up the next Government has a moral obligation to work with the EU to restart the rescue. Every migrant child’s death is a stain on Europe’s conscience. How many thousands must die this summer before Europe acts?”
Today the European Commission residing in Luxembourg issued a new 10-point plan that will ease the trafficking crisis of migrants to Europe including allocating essential funds, effective fingerprinting and processing of migrants, and finding out where traffickers’ funds are coming from among other priorities.
“We need to show that same collective European sense of urgency we have consistently shown in reacting in times of crisis,” said High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini and Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos in a statement. “The dire situation in the Mediterranean is not a new nor a passing reality. That is why the Commission will come forward with a comprehensive European Agenda on Migration in May to address the structural problems.”
It’s no wonder Save the Children and now the European Commission are working to save more migrants and especially children who cross the Mediterranean in a desperate move for safety and security.
“I was 17 when I arrived on September 4, 2014,” said Beau-fils is an 18-year-old migrant from Guinea-Conakry. “The war back home started in June 2013. I actually made two attempts to get into Europe. I failed the first time, but managed the second time. The first time, I tried crossing the fence between Morocco and Spain (a border barrier between Morocco and the Spanish city of Melilla on the coast of North Africa, constructed to stop illegal migration and smuggling). I tried crossing the fence by night but didn’t succeed. There were like 500 of us, the idea was that the bigger the number, the more of us would make it through. But I got caught and was sent back. Whilst in Morocco, I was beaten up (shows a huge scar on his leg).
During the crossing of the Sahara, we had gas tanks and some water tanks. If you fell off the car, as a rule they don’t stop. In my car, we made them stop when someone fell off. We knocked on the glass and stamped our feet to make them stop. We were 32 people in one four-wheel drive truck. I then turned back and tried another attempt, this time from Morocco to Algiers to Libya and then to Italy, and I made it. There were 125 of us on a rubber boat, without anything at all. The boat was leaking so our feet were in the water for hours and hours. It was dark. People cried and yelled, prayed to God. Others were just silent. Many cried…. and I can’t swim. I wouldn’t advise anyone to take on that journey. I am OK; at least I am not being beaten.”
Today, Save the Children reiterated their plea saying that based on migrant tesitimony no women or children survived the major shipwreck off of Libya last weekend. Without a concrete plan more migrants are sure to meet their deaths, especially children, in the Mediterranean between the life they know and the life they wish they could have.
FEATURED PHOTO CAPTION:
Ayo*, 4, child minor from Nigeria, plays with Save the Children’s cultural mediator, Naoufel Soussi, in one of the 32 reception facilities run by authorities around the country, accommodating children arriving to the coasts of Italy, fleeing conflict and poverty. At the time of our visit, there are approx. 40 children and also 19 families at the facility (this is an exception as usually facilities for unaccompanied children do not host families), of different nationalities. Most are Somali and Nigerian. Six to eight migrants live in each room. The facility is guarded by police 24/7. When new migrants arrive they are provided with a hygiene kit. Medical checks are to be provided but so far no psychosocial services have been provided. By law, children are not supposed to stay in a center like this for no more than 90 days, when they are to start a proper integration into Italian society, in a community that offers permanent housing and learning possibilities. Due to the sheer number of arrivals and an overburdened system, that is not always the case.
* after a name indicates that the name has been changed to protect identity.