Another 700 Africans attempting to reach Europe by boat are feared dead after their boat sank yesterday (19 April) 60 miles off the Libyan coast.
At the time of writing, just 28 had been rescued by the Italian coastguard, and 24 bodies recovered.
Record numbers of would-be migrants have drowned in European waters this year, following the EU’s decision not to replace the Italian-run operation, Mare Nostrum, which saved 100,000 lives in 2014 but was thought to be lining the pockets of smugglers and only increasing the flow of migrants.
But the flow has not subsided.
Collins Ima, a 23-year-old Nigerian, told RFI that, after working in Libya for 11 months without pay, he was so desperate to reach Europe that he didn’t care if he lived or died.
“Either I was going to die, or I would survive,” he said. “I thank God [that I survived].”
As pressure mounts on the EU to reconsider an alternative to Mare Nostrum, one smuggler told The Guardian he had not even heard of the now-defunct rescue operation, and that migrants were not concerned about whether or not they would be rescued.
“I’ve not heard of [Mare Nostrum]. What is that – from 2009?” he said. “Many people would go on the boats, even if they didn’t have any rescue operations.”
Which begs the question: just how unbearable must be the lives of these migrant hopefuls?
In 2013, World Watch Monitor published a report after another boat sinking in which more than 200 migrants drowned – 90 per cent of whom were thought to be Christians from Eritrea and Ethiopia who were fleeing persecution or conflict at home.
“Scratch beneath the surface and for many of the migrants, their stories are not only of wanting a better life. Often they will be of fleeing persecution or conflict at home, and paying their life savings to smugglers who promise their passage to the safety of European shores,” World Watch Monitor reported at the time.