Migrant Ship Disaster Demands Response from EU

This weekend a ship attempting to smuggle migrant workers into Europe capsized 60 miles off the coast of Libya. The people on the boat rushed to one side to get the attention of a passing merchant vessel, causing the boat to tip over into the water. As of now, the death toll could be as high as 950, making this disaster one of the worst so far this year. Unfortunately, this scenario has become quite common in the Mediterranean, as people are being smuggled out of Libya on dangerous, overloaded vessels. In 2015, an estimated 1,500 migrants have died in the crossing to Europe, a figure that according to The Guardian is 30 times higher than the previous year.

A map of the accident site

Human trafficking in the area has increased immensely due to the war in Libya. People trying to flee the area are forced to find illegal ways to get to Europe because the immigration laws are incredibly strict, and many European governments are afraid to relax their policies for fear of legitimizing anti-immigration parties that could contend with them in the future. The Italian-run search and rescue operation known as Mare Norstrum that saved 100,000 lives last year was cut last October due to worries that the program encouraged smugglers to make more frequent and dangerous trips. This strategy does not seem to have worked, as shown by the exponential rise in deaths this year.

A young survivor of the ship being carried by a member of the Italian Coast Guard

Organizations such as Save the Children have spoken out, calling for the European Union to hold crisis talks about the issue. The organization said in a statement “It is time to put humanity before politics and immediately restart the rescue, Europe cannot look the other way while thousands die on our shores.” Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi also called for a meeting this week, asking, “How can it be that we daily are witnessing a tragedy?” The political debate will continue to rage this week, as European leaders must decide how to tackle this crisis. Surely though, this problem of human trafficking will only be solved when stability is brought to Libya and other regions of great conflict. As British Prime Minister David Cameron said in a statement, “We should put the blame squarely with the criminal human traffickers who are the ones managing, promoting and selling this trade, this trade in human life.”