The month of April is one of spring and bloom, when Europeans enjoy the bright, warm sunshine after months of gloomy and grey weather. April has been anything but that for hundreds of desperate migrants who drowned in the Mediterranean last Saturday.
It’s actually an old story, but hit the headlines for the number of migrants who drowned: various accounts put the figure at least at 800, if not more. They were on a dangerous journey for a better life, seeking a destination that turned out to be too far.
Several ‘push’ factors have long driven migrants to undertake hazardous journeys: fleeing from repression in home countries to a desire to seek a better life. The ‘pull’ factors have been prosperity and safety in European countries.
After the April 18 tragedy, driven by public pressure to adopt a more humane approach to migrants, European ministers went into a huddle in Brussels and announced tripling of funds for sea rescue operations, but critics say the new funding won’t make much of a difference. In 2014, Britain had stopped its participation in sea rescue operations on the ground that rescuing migrants had become a ‘pull’ factor for more migrants to venture on hazardous journeys to reach Europe.
But it changed its policy at the meeting, and offered ships and helicopters.
Besides operations to destroy vessels used by people smugglers, the new ‘fortress Europe’ measures included demands that the frontline states of Italy, Malta, and Greece fingerprint every person who arrives across the Mediterranean, that quicker repatriation be organised for “irregulars” who fail to qualify for asylum, and that the EU establish offices in the countries neighbouring Libya to gather intelligence on and try to stem the flow of migrants.
As countries pledged resources, charity organisation Save the Children said, “Europe took a small step back from the moral abyss today, but it needs to do much more to provide clarity and turn this momentum into lives saved at sea.”
Collective shame made the scale of migrant deaths on April 18 an election issue in Britain, with Labour accusing PM Cameron of failing to secure proper post-war planning after Gaddafi was overthrown in 2011. The deaths were partly due to the chaos in Libya, it was claimed.
According to the ‘Missing Migrants Project’ of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), there have been over 1,000 new deaths at sea since April 1 alone. The figure for 2014 was 3,072, making Europe the most dangerous destination for migrants. IOM said after the Brussels meeting, “IOM believes that the objective of any action has to be saving lives, and we very much look forward to seeing the strengthening in that direction of current operations at sea.”