Approximately 500 migrants to Europe are feared to have died after their ship sank in the Mediterranean Sea over the weekend. The incident highlights the increasing danger for many Middle Eastern and African migrants and refugees illegally crossing into the EU.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM), a Geneva based organization, suspect human traffickers intentionality sank the ship. During an interview with IOM, four survivors from the vessel, including two Palestinians, one Egyptian, and a Syrian, described how the smugglers turned violent. Shortly after departing from Port of Damietta near Alexandria, Egypt, the traffickers rammed a vessel escorting hundreds of people after they refused to move to another, less seaworthy boat.
Syrian refugees rescued in the Mediterranean Sea. (Photo: UNHCR)
In a separate incident last week, 250 Africans appeared to have perished when their boat sank off the coast of Libya. According to the Libyan Navy, only 26 people survived the ordeal.
So far this year, over 2,900 people have died trying to enter Europe illegally by sea, compared to only about 700 in 2013. But according to the Associated Press, these figures add up staggeringly: more than 20,000 people have lost their lives to reach Italy by sea over the past two decades. Over 100,000 have been rescued since January alone.
Economic opportunity has always been a driving force behind North Africans’ search for a better life in Europe. However, recent conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and elsewhere, have renewed the urgency for many migrants to seek refuge in the West. Ultimately experts believe the flow of such migrants, often intercepted by European militaries, can only be solved by addressing the root causes of emigration.