WATCH: Italy says it’s at war with human traffickers and is calling on the European Union for immediate intervention to help stop the Mediterranean migrant crisis. Ahead of emergency talks in Brussels, pressure is growing for the EU to step in. Stuart Greer reports.
Some 800 lives were lost in what the United Nations High Commission for Refugees called the” deadliest” migrant boat disaster recorded in the Mediterranean Sea.
But the overloaded fishing boat that capsized off the coast of Libya late Saturday is but one in a sea filled with rickety boats ferrying — smuggling — migrants and asylum seekers from countries where their lives were already at risk.
The situations they’re leaving — in Syria, Somalia, Eritrea and other conflict-torn or poverty-stricken regions — are awful enough, but they’re willing to risk death for a chance to escape to a better and safer life in Europe.
As European leaders mull how to address the growing migrant crisis in the Mediterranean and the United Nations calls on the international community to take “swift, collective and courageous action,” the migrants who survived the crossing and the loved ones of those who didn’t have shared the perils so many migrants have faced.
Teen migrants crammed aboard doomed boat
According to the international humanitarian organization Save the Children, Somali migrant Said was one of 60 adolescents that were on the vessel that capsized on Saturday.
But there were only four who survived.
Said was one of the teen boys rescued The Independent reported.
His parents were hoping he could make it to Norway to live with relatives, he told The Independent with the help of a translator from Save the Children.
He described being stuffed into the doomed boat with more than 800 others — much more than the boat could safely hold but far less than the smugglers had planned.
“While getting onto the boat I heard the smugglers say that they were going to try to get 1,200 on to the boat and that’s why they beat us to get us onto the boat,” said 16-year-old Said.
“But they stopped at 800 because it was full – we couldn’t even move. There was no food or water, the people that were put below were locked underneath,” according to Said.
The International Organization for Migration warned this could be an extraordinarily deadly year for migrants in the Mediterranean, suggesting as many as 30,000 people could lose their lives in 2015.
But Save the Children is raising the red flag that this could also be a particularly tragic year for child migrants.
“If current trends continue, 2,500 children could die in the Mediterranean this year unless politicians immediately restart rescue operations,” Save the Children said in a statement.
Migrants murdered by ISIS
Libya has become a hotbed for human smugglers as the recognized government struggles against rebel groups and Islamist militancy.
For migrants, it’s a quick route to Europe: the Italian island of Lampedusa sits just 295 kilometres off the Libyan shore.
We know all too well what that the voyage across the Mediterranean is deadly for so many — about 3,500 people died making the crossing last year, approximately 1,600 in the first months of this year — but the transit route to the shores of Mediterranean Coast poses its own risks.
Three Eritrean men, who had tried and failed to seek a life in Israel, travelled along the migrant route to Libya.
They were among 30 people purportedly executed by ISIS in Libya.
The three Eritrean men left Israel last year and may have been trying to migrate to Europe, according to a non-government organization that works with migrants and refugees.
Tel Aviv-based Hotline for Refugees and Migrants told Haaretz people familiar with the men identified them from a video posted online, showing the massacre of 30 captive men on a Libyan beach.
But according to Hotline, the three Eritrean men departed Israel for a third country and “traveled to Libya since they did not receive any protection in those countries.” The organization said the men were “coerced” into leaving Israel after being detained in the Holot detention centre — where hundreds of African migrants are held.
In an interview with Haaretz, a relative named Mesi said the man, identified as T., had lived to Israel in since 2007, but went to “Uganda or Rwanda” after leaving Israel.
“From there he went on to Sudan, and from Sudan to Libya,” Mesi said.
She said T. attempted to leave for Europe on a migrant boat, but “understood that the boat was returned to Libya.”
The man’s brother told Mesi “that T. arrived in Sudan and Libya and that he hadn’t spoken to him in a long time because he was in Libyan prison.”
In a video posted online Sunday, T. and the two other Eritrean men were said to bee seen among a group of Ethiopian Coptic Christians who were marched down the beach before being lined up, shot and beheaded by purported ISIS militants.
No certain future across the Mediterranean
Making it to Europe doesn’t ensure any of the hundreds of thousands of migrants will find security. it becomes a waiting game to see if their asylum bids will be accepted.
According to France 24, Italy was already hosting almost 80,000 people in migrant reception centres and other facilities as boat after boat (and rescue boat after rescue boat) arrived in port this month. Stays at such facilities are meant to be temporary, but can go on for months.
For some, an uncertain future on European soil is still better than what they left behind or not surviving the transit across the Mediterranean at all.
“Life here is good, you eat three times day, but it’s tough,” a 23-year-old Somali migrant, identified as Ali, told France 24. “You wait, you wait… In my country, there is no freedom, no peace, no money. I want freedom, I want a real life.”
In other countries, such as Greece and Bulgaria, the reception centres themselves have become human rights concerns, The Washington Post reported.
In some countries, opposition, even outright hatred, is growing against the tide of migrants coming to Europe — particularly in Germany.
According to The Washington Post, Germany took in about 173,000 asylum seekers in 2014. This year, the number is on track to be significantly higher. The Washington Post reported Germany had more than 28,681 applications in March alone —192 per cent higher than March 2014.