The high number of people migrating to Europe across the Mediterranean Sea has led to a fallout between EU states, even as people die while making the crossing in overcrowded and unseaworthy boats.
At least 48 people died and 67 others were rescued after their overcrowded migrant boat sank off the Tunisian coast. The captain was reported to have abandoned the boat, which had a capacity for 90 people but was carrying about 180.
In a separate incident, nine people, including six children, drowned off the coast of Turkey after their speedboat sank. Meanwhile, at least 46 migrants were feared drowned and a further 16 people missing after their boat capsized as it sailed from Somalia to Yemen. The boat was reported to be carrying at least 100 Ethiopian nationals, some without lifejackets.
It was the rescue of 692 people from inflatable boats off the Libyan coast in six different rescue operations that caused a political fall-out between European states. The new government of Italy refused to take in the migrants, who had been picked up by the SOS Méditerranée Gibraltar-flagged rescue vessel Aquarius. Malta also refused to take them in.
However, the new government of Spain offered to take in the stranded migrants to help avoid a humanitarian disaster. The migrants were transferred to Italian coastguard and naval vessels and taken to Valencia. The French island of Corsica had also offered them sanctuary.
The Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, Dunja Mijatovic, welcomed Spain’s move: “Saving lives at sea is an obligation that states must always uphold.”
Italy and Malta’s rejection of the migrants was widely criticised by international agencies, trade unions and shipping bodies. The ITF and European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) expressed their concern at the refusal of Italy and Malta to meet their legal obligation to allow the migrants to land.
The ITF is also concerned about the possible future implications for merchant ships that meet their international requirement to rescue persons in distress at sea. Merchant ships have rescued more than 50,000 people in the Mediterranean over the last three years.
The ITF general secretary Stephen Cotton called for “a long-term sustainable solution to this long-standing problem” at European Union (EU) borders, and for the EU and member states to address the issue in a humanitarian manner consistent with the principles of United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR)
Figures from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) show that more than 32,000 people have reached Europe by sea so far this year, and 660 people have died attempting the crossing.
The IOM also reported that over 7,000 migrants a month take the perilous journey from the Horn of Africa to Yemen, amounting to 100,000 people in 2017.
Press Release: itfseafarers.org