Apologies for the severe tone to the headline of this article, but the unfortunate reality is that it’s true. While many of us in the UK & Northern Europe will spend our holidays in Mediterranean resorts this summer, many migrants seeking asylum will die trying to cross the Med from Africa and the Middle East. And the worst part of it all is that much of it was, and is, completely avoidable. Literally, all our government(s) needed to do was chip into the previous Mare Norstrum search and rescue operations that were being conducted by Italy, i.e. search and rescue missions that were saving over 100,000 asylum seekers per year. When they refused, Italy could no longer afford it, packed-up, and instead we now have the EU backed Triton operation which covers nowhere near as much sea as what the previous Mare Nostrum mission did. There has already been a spike this year in the number of deaths since the change.
A quick background to the crisis in stats:
- So far in 2015 more than 1000 asylum seekers, i.e. men, women and children, have died trying to cross the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas.
- The death toll in 2015 is already around 20 times higher than it was in 2014.
- There was previously a large scale search & rescue operation conducted by Italy called Mare Nostrum that was saving around 100,000 asylum seekers per year from the sea.
- Mare Nostrum was costing Italy approximately €9m per month.
- After repeatedly asking other EU countries to chip into Mare Nostrum (to no avail), Italy ended Mare Nostrum and the EU replaced it with the Triton operation.
- Triton covers an area of sea just 30 miles out from the Italian coast whereas Mare Nostrum was covering an area of 27,000 square miles (see diagram further down in the article for a better view of how much more area was covered by the Italian operation).
- Triton costs the EU around €2.9m per month (less than a third of Mare Nostrum’s budget)
- Mare Nostrum had manpower of 900 military personnel whereas Triton has just 65 officers.
What was happening before versus what is happening now
To give you a brief summary of what’s happening now versus what was happening before, here is a diagram that I found via the Amnesty International website. It shows the position where most incidents are happening, where Mare Nostrum (the previous Italian-backed search & resuce operatation) was patrolling, and where the current EU-backed Triton operation is patrolling. As you can see clearly, Triton is not patrolling a large enough area to save many of the boats in time.
What should be happening
Of course, the simple answer is that we, i.e. the EU (and in particular Northern European countries such as the UK), should be putting more money into delivering an operation similar to the previous Italian search & rescue that was saving 100,000 people per year. Triton needs to cover a bigger area, and it needs to be more about search & rescue than border control. In terms of just saving lives, we can literally do that by doing those two things.
Why it hasn’t happened already
Some of the reasons originally given from the countries not contributing to the previous Mare Nostrum operation were that they felt an operation like Mare Nostrum would encourage more illegal migrants to try and cross into Europe. However, as was predicated by many refugee and human rights organisations at the time, the abolition of Mare Nostrum has not stopped migrants trying to make the journey across the Med! All it has done is cause more deaths. Needless deaths of men, women and children. There are pregnant women trying to make this journey, lone children and other extremely vulnerable people. Even if we are to take their word for it, i.e. the governments in Europe who do not want to make a contribution, that they genuinely had a fear of encouraging migrants to take the journey instead of just trying to cut their budgets, this has now been proved wrong by the numbers of those still crossing. The only difference is that there are now more deaths.
The reality check
Migrants aren’t going to stop crossing the Mediterranean or Aegean Seas trying to get to Europe. The unfortunate reality is that the horrors of countries like Syria right now are so bad that many feel the risk of death in the Med is worth it to try and escape whatever hell they’re coming from.
What you can do about it
If you’d like the EU (and the UK in particular) to take more responsibility in ending this crisis, please sign this petition organised by Amnesty International which can be found here – http://www.amnesty.org.uk/issues/Refugees-and-asylum
Also, with just 2 days to go until the UK General Election, you can tweet any of the main party leaders about this and ask them how they intend to deal with the crisis should they get into power. I’ve listed some of their twitter profiles below:
@NicolaSturgeon – SNP
@Ed_Miliband – Labour
@David_Cameron – Conservatives
@Nick_Clegg – Liberal Democrats
@NatalieBen – The Green Party
Sources: https://www.amnesty.org.uk/actions/dont-let-them-drown-mediterranean, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/17/death-mediterranean-africans-migrant-sea-libya, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/31/italy-sea-mission-thousands-risk, http://www.heraldscotland.com/mobile/news/home-news/scotland-doesnt-want-cruel-heartless-rhetoric-about-the-refugee-crisis-in-the-med-it-.124290848.