The incident occurred as the boat made the perilous crossing from Africa to Europe. Three more boats conveying migrants were picked up off Italian shores yesterday. Most of the dead were Eritreans trying to reach Europe in search of asylum to escape the harsh economic conditions at home. The disaster came as European states prepared to address a growing refugee crisis. Survivors were taken to Lampedusa, an Italian island that is closer to Africa than to the mainland of Italy. The recurring fatal trips are a grim reminder of the extreme risks that migrants and asylum-seekers often take in an effort to slip into Europe every year. During the 1990s and early 2000s, many boat riders were considered “economic immigrants” but the majority of the latest arrivals are refugees fleeing, most say persecution. Facing unrest and persecution in Africa and the Middle East many of the migrants think the Lampedusa escape route to Europe would be worth the risk. About 30,000 asylum seekers have landed in Italy so far this year alone, more than four times the number last year. The majority are Eritreans Somalis and Syrians. Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera in a commentary claimed that the long running tally of the death toll for illegal immigrants trying to get into Europe was conservatively put at around 20,000.
The decades-long problem has been exacerbated this year by thousands of refugees fleeing civil war in Syria. The disaster underscores the human cost of Europe’s immigration crisis and the role that human trafficking gangs play in exploiting vulnerable migrants desperate to reach Europe. The head of the Roman Catholic Church Pope Francis said that news reports of the deaths of desperate people trying to reach a better life had been like “a thorn in the heart”, referring to the incident as “a disgrace which must not be repeated”. Thankfully the European Commission is proposing that the EU launch a Mediterranean-wide search to intercept migrant boats. Asking for more European assistance the Italian Prime Minister blamed lax border controls in Libya as the reason why it has become the main departure point for many of the boats. The incidents have also renewed debate over Italy’s tough immigration law which has put the survivors of the wreckages under criminal investigation. For many refugees who do manage to enter into “central” Europe the reality is the cold earth beneath their sleeping bags. Unemployed they live in parks and do the most menial tasks or beg for a living. They come to Europe with no real plans other than for society to take care of them. These waves of people coming ashore cannot remain an Italian problem. The issue concerns everyone. In the face of the catastrophe everyone is blaming unprincipled smugglers. While Europe may be obliged, for now, to open its borders to the hordes of economic migrants, a lasting solution lies in improving conditions in the migrants’ home countries. Europe’s current immigration policy tries to make it as hard as possible for refugees to get in. The recurring tragedies prove how ineffective this policy is. Whoever sees a journey on a wooden boat as their last chance for survival will take that chance no matter how dangerous it might be. African countries whose nationals are frequently at risk, in collaboration with the European Union, must not allow the Mediterranean to become a cemetery for African migrant workers.
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