It’s thought many unaccompanied children are among the 400 migrants feared drowned after their boat capsized en route to Europe from Libya earlier this week.
It’s the latest, and the most serious, disaster to occur in the past few months. And it’s unlikely to be the last. Every day, boats full of migrants are risking what little they have in search of the safety and security that a new life in Europe could offer.
Continuing instability in Libya means that more people – many of them children – are expected to attempt the perilous journey across the Mediterranean in the coming months.
But, with the EU having abandoned search and rescue operations in the region last November, the risks are greater than ever.
Today our new Restart the Rescue campaign calls on the UK’s political leaders to put a stop to this heartless policy, and commit to supporting search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean.
Our CEO, Justin Forsyth, says “Our political leaders cannot ignore the fact that, without search and rescue, we are allowing thousands of innocent children and their families to drown off the coast of Europe.
“Whoever makes up the next government has a moral obligation to work the EU to restart the rescue.
“Every migrant child’s death is a stain on Europe’s conscience. How many thousands must die this summer before Europe acts?”
Those children who make it into Europe safely bring with them stories of the violence and terror inside Libya.
“We were continuously beaten up, in some cases with iron bars,” says Brahane*, a 17-year-old Eritrean who arrived in Italy from Libya during the recent upsurge in violence.
“ I saw people cut off the heads of Christian people. On the road to Tripoli, you could see the wrecks of cars burnt by fundamentalist groups. Before we got through, about 61 to 63 people had been killed. Of these, 25 had their heads cut off.
“We lived near Tripoli for four months in a sardine factory. There were more than 1000 of us. If anybody spoke with a friend or a neighbour, they were beaten up. All this, to extort money from us. They made you call home, saying you were dying, and in the meantime they beat you up so that your family could hear the screams.”
Time for action
For as long as conflict continues inside Libya, overcrowded boats will continue to venture out into the Mediterranean. For as long as they do, we have an obligation to be there for them.
On 27 June, all EU governments will meet in Brussels to endorse the new European Agenda on migration. Our leaders must take this opportunity to push for the restoration of search and rescue operations, and a long term plan to tackle the drivers of children on the move and ensure these children are protected.
If they don’t, more deaths are inevitable.
*Named changed to protect the individual