NEWS » Refugee crisis continues unabated

Refugee crisis continues unabated

A few days ago Italy recorded the worst single death toll among refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Up to 850 people died in a disastrous shipwreck while trying to reach the Italian coast.

Concern has been expressed by the government and also by Pope Francis who appealed to the European Union and the international community to cooperate with Italy in facing up to this emergency. It is evident that the proportions of the phenomenon require a more extensive commitment at a European and international level.

Italy is often the first European Union country where the migrants arrive. Most of them want to go to other countries but while their requests or appeals for asylum are processed, they are kept in reception centres, sometimes for too long.  

With the beginning of spring Italians have unfortunately got used to hearing news about shipwrecks off the Southern Italian coasts. Due to the worsening of the political and economical conditions of Africa and the Middle East the number of migrants are increasing and are expected to soar at an alarming rate. 

The main departure point is Libya which after the allied military action that helped bring down the regime of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and is now in the hands of Islamist militants.

The Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has proposed a Rome-led military mission, under a United Nations mandate, to prevent the departure and subsequent death of innocent people abandoned in the Mediterranean.

According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean rose sharply last year to more than 220,000, with the majority arriving in Italy.

Only this month, more than 13,300 migrants have arrived. The data is alarming as it almost equals the number of people arrived in the first three months of this year. Also the total death toll is shockingly high: excluding the last disaster, 950 migrants died in the Mediterranean this year, while in the same period last year there were 50 people drowned.

The calling off of Mare Nostrum, safe and rescue operation, accounts for one of the main causes of this disaster. Mare Nostrum intercepted ships carrying migrants in international waters and saved  more than 140,000 people from October 2013 to October 2014. It was then replaced by an operation called Triton, run by the EU’s border agency, Frontex, which only operates within 50km of the Italian coast.

Triton had been chosen as a cheaper option and a disincentive for migrants to embark as the journey would have been even more risky, but clearly it hasn’t serve its scope so far.

Giulia Lombardo

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