People seeking refuge in Europe die in sunken boatsthe second time in a week a boat holding refugees from African countries has capsized killing at least 27 people trying to reach European shores. Three of these people were children. Last week on 3rd October 345 people drowned in similar circumstances. The boats were heading for the island of Lampedusa, which is around 290km (180 miles) off the coast of Africa and a key destination for migrant vessels bound for Europe.
Criminal people-traffickers charge over 1,000 euro ($1,355) a head and cram the migrants onto boats that routinely run into trouble and require rescue. Fortress Europe, an Italian observatory that tracks migrant deaths reported by the media, says about 6,450 people died in the Canal of Sicily between 1994 and 2012.
Obviously people would not risk their lives in this way if sheer desperation were not forcing them to do so. Facing unrest and persecution in Africa and the Middle East, many of the migrants think the Lampedusa escape route to Europe is worth the risk.
Once in Italy, the migrants are screened for asylum and often sent back home if they don’t qualify. During the 1990s and early 2000s, many of the arrivals were considered “economic migrants.” But many of the latest arrivals are fleeing persecution and conflict in places such as Syria and Eritrea, and qualify for refugee status, U.N. officials say. Many eventually end up in northern Europe’s larger and more organized immigrant communities.
Voice of Syrian Woman who was onboard
11 October 2013 Last updated at 16:21 BST
“Dying in Syria…we faced death in Lampedusa’ says Syrian refugee”
In this interview we can listen to the voice of a woman who was on the boat that capsized last week. She is the mother of four children.
”It was like a death trip, a suicide trip,” she said. ”No-one told us that the trip would be like this.”
The scenes verged on the apocalyptic: 500 people, many of whom couldn’t even swim, were forced from a burning ship into the sea. The events that took place early Thursday morning off the Italian island of Lampedusa have shaken all of Europe.
More than 100 refugees were killed, including children. Hundreds are still missing. It’s the second such disaster to happen within just a few days. On Monday, 13 refugees drowned off the coast of Sicily as they attempted to swim to shore.
Now the bodies have been laid out in Lampedusa, Europe’s southern-most outpost in the Mediterranean Sea. The island’s desperate mayor even called on Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta to visit the site. “Come here and help us count the bodies,” she said.
Residents of the small island, which is situated more closely to Tunisia than to the Italian mainland, feel abandoned — and not for the first time. Since 1999, more than 200,000 people from Africa and Asia have landed on the island fleeing civil wars, hunger and misery. It is estimated that 10,000 to 20,000 people have perished making their way to Lampedusa.
This year, more refugees have arrived on the island than in any previous year. They come from Somalia, where criminal gangs spread terror and death each day, from Eritrea, where people have no future, and from Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, where the Arab Spring started as a dream but has since become a nightmare for many. Since January, 22,000 refugees have arrived on the coast of Lampedusa. The island has become a powerful symbol of the failure of the European Union’s refugee policies.