Wednesday

1st Apr 2020

Mediterranean migrant disaster gets muted response

  • Last year a deadly tragedy promted the EU to triple its financing for rescue missions on the Mediterranean (Photo: eeas.europa.eu)

Up to 500 are feared to have drowned off the Libyan coast while trying to cross to Europe, the UN’s refugee agency said on Wednesday (20 April), but a muted response to the tragedy suggests empathy is dwindling across the continent.

UNHCR said the 41 survivors, 37 men, three women and a three-year-old child were rescued by merchant ships and taken to Kalamata, Greece on 16 April. The survivors included Somalis, Ethiopians, Egyptians and Sudanese.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or join as a group

They told the UN agency that they had been part of a larger group of 100-200 people who left from Tobruk, Libya last week.

After sailing for several hours, the smugglers attempted to transfer them to a larger boat, already overcrowded with hundreds of people.

During the transfer, the larger boat capsized and sank. The survivors on the smaller boat drifted for days at sea, before being rescued.

If confirmed, this incident could be the deadliest disaster since a year ago, when over 800 people drowned on their way to Italy in the Mediterranean.

However, reaction in Europe has been muted compared with the shock caused by last year's tragedy, shedding light on how sympathy for the plight of migrants has evaporated.

Last April, news of the shipwreck prompted an emergency EU summit, where leaders tripled the financing for search and rescue missions on the Mediterranean Sea.

“The situation in the Mediterranean is a tragedy,” European leaders said in their conclusions last April.

So far, only Italian prime minster Matteo Renzi and a Maltese minister have spoken out about the latest disaster.

Renzi said on Wednesday that Italian rescuers were trying to recover the shipwreck and the bodies.

Renzi has been calling for European help in stemming the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean, asking for financial assistance for sub-Saharan Africa.

Carmelo Abela, Malta's home affairs minister, said in Luxembourg: "This tragedy is yet another horrific blemish on Europe’s collective conscience."

EU foreign and defence ministers earlier this week discussed a variety of measures to help Libya, from financial aid to a possible mission to improve the country’s police and criminal justice capacities, but did not commit to any specific measures.

Since the beginning of the year, 24,940 migrants arrived in Italy by sea, according to UN figures, on the route used mostly by African migrants.

It represents an increase of 4.7 percent compared with the same period last year, according to Italian interior ministry data.

The number of arrivals has been rising since March, as the weather gets warmer.

Over 150,000 migrants reached Italy by boat in 2015, the vast majority departing from Libya.

Austria and Hungary derail EU naval plan on Libya arms

An EU naval operation set for launch in April off the Libyan coast may be derailed following objections by Austria and Hungary. Both want the power to end the mission should migrants be lured into being rescued.

News in Brief

  1. Danish conservatives want Orban party kicked out of EPP
  2. Dutch finance minister repents on virus help
  3. France to house domestic violence victims in hotels
  4. Europe sends medical goods to Iran, despite US embargo
  5. Commission sets consultation on raising 2030 climate target
  6. 12-year old Belgian girl dies of coronavirus
  7. EU commission: no 'indefinite' emergency measures
  8. Denmark plans 'gradual' return to normal after Easter

Opinion

Europe's migration system is broken: Renew has a plan

The failure of successful integration of migrants and refugees granted stay in Europe puts the entire asylum and migration policy at risk. Member states have to step up their integration policies.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking Europe’s Economy Circular – the time is now
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersScottish parliament seeks closer collaboration with the Nordic Council
  3. UNESDAFrom Linear to Circular – check out UNESDA's new blog
  4. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms

Latest News

  1. Without European patriotism, EU decline is inevitable
  2. EU cancels April Fool's 'fake news'
  3. A coronavirus 'Marshall Plan' alone won't be nearly enough
  4. Trying to think straight about coronavirus
  5. Berlin ready to airlift Greek island refugees
  6. Von der Leyen criticises Hungary, but fails to mention it
  7. Air pollution drops in Europe, but how long will it last?
  8. Human rights abusers don't stop for virus, MEPs tell EU

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us