A major rescue operation has been launched off the coast of Italy where as many as 700 people are feared to have been on board a boat that has capsized this morning. It is believed that the 20 –metre long boat overturned when the migrants moved to one side of the overcrowded in desperate bid to get off as a merchant ship approached.
A rescue programme which was in place to rescue migrants was scrapped by the EU, November last year but yet the number of people trying to cross the Mediterranean has not dropped and the number of those dying has increased significantly.
In an effort to force nations in the EU to restart a programme where search and rescue ships patrol the main areas ships traffic people into Italy, Save the Children launched a campaign called, Restart the Rescue. They already have aid workers working at Reggio Calabria, on Italy’s southern tip to assist with the 144 migrants rescued last week, where reports from the survivors suggest that 400 other migrants might have died when their boat capsized off the Mediterranean coast.
International aid groups and Italian authorities have heavily criticised Europe’s Operation Triton, a new maritime patrol aimed mainly at stopping the flow of African migrants using the Mediterranean crossing to Europe. Concerns are high due to the smaller budget allocation when numbers are increasing and this could lead to more migrant deaths.
Triton unlike Mare Nostrum, is only a third of the budget of what the Italian operation was and uses seven boats, two planes and a helicopter with personnel from Portugal, Netherlands and Finland. It has been made clear by Frontex that Triton will only focus on “border control and surveillance”.
Migrants beaten up in Libya
Reports have come of migrants being beaten up by traffickers in Libya with some being kidnapped and used for ransom from relatives already in Europe. A 17 year old Eritrean boy who arrived in Italy in the recent weeks described how the first atrocities took place in the desert. “The drivers and the traffickers would always be high on drugs that they took, and when the truck stopped for a break, and you did something they did not like you would pay dearly at times with your life”, the boy described.
Migrants are forced into calling home or anyone they know to say they are dying and in the meantime they are being beaten up so that their screams of pain could be heard by their families.
Migrants fleeing Boko Haram
Although not confirmed, some migrants have told authorities that the growing threat of Boko Haram and other minority extreme Islamist groups has forced them to flee. Some migrants fled into neighbouring Chad from the villages of Douri and Madaye in eastern Nigeria when Boko Haram militants group attacked them, burning down their houses. Police and soldiers later arrived and then started firing at those who remained, claiming they were Boko Haram supporters.
Some of these migrants, after settling in Chad and realising that there is no future for them in Chad, begin the journey to Europe travelling first to Libya before attempting to cross the Mediterranean.
The rise of xenophobic attacks on migrants in South Africa spells for more migrants opting to take the route to Europe instead of the route to South Africa.