Mediterranean boat deaths: we cannot stand by and watch

Migrants arriving by boat at Lampedusa, Italy
Migrants arriving by boat at Lampedusa, Italy

For migrants fleeing persecution in their homeland, venturing out into a wintry sea in treacherous conditions is fraught with danger. Today, with the news that 29 people have died of hypothermia after being picked up by the Italian coast guard, we’ve received yet another reminder of the terrible consequences it can have.

Their boat, which was carrying over 100 people, got caught up in extreme sea conditions and was found drifting near the island of Lampedusa. In high waves and with water temperatures approaching freezing, their inflatable vessel never stood a chance.

Yet for them, and the 3,700 other migrants who have attempted to cross into Europe by boat already this year, setting out to sea can seem like the only option they have.

Uncertain futures

The majority of migrants on board the boats that head out into the Mediterranean every day are Syrian refugees, among the 4 million who have been forced to flee due to the ongoing conflict in their home country.

They have lost their homes and their livelihoods. They are traumatised, and their futures are uncertain, but the world is turning a blind eye.

Responding to news of the tragedy today, our chief executive, Justin Forsyth said, “This problem will not go away while there are nearly 4 million Syrian refugees living in limbo.”

That’s why we’ve been vocal in calling for rich countries to take in their fair share of vulnerable families, but the UK government has so far resettled just 90 families – and they’re not the only ones falling short.

Even the ones who make it into Europe face a struggle to survive. And as ever, children are most vulnerable. As many as one in six of the people who attempt to cross into Europe by boat are children; many are unaccompanied and in danger of being exploited, trafficked or even killed.

We must do more

Save the Children runs programmes across Italy to respond to and care for families and unaccompanied children who make this dangerous journey. We work in reception centres, night shelters and with local authorities across Italy on this issue.

But as an international community, we can and must do more. We are already facing our biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War, and numbers are still on the rise.

Already this year, attempting crossings of the Mediterranean have increased by 60% compared to the same period in 2014. Last year, 41,200 migrants were rescued trying to cross, and 3,000 died or went missing at sea – a huge increase from just 600 in 2013.

They are all tragedies that could have been avoided. They are all reasons why we must stop prioritising border control over sea rescue. Why we must do everything we can to offer families safe resettlement options.

And why we must stop watching meekly on the shore as tragedy after tragedy unfolds, and act. It is too late for the 29 who lost their lives this week, but there are many more like them, who could yet be saved.

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