As new details of the recent deadly shipwreck tragedy, dubbed “the deadliest ever in the Mediterranean” and a “genocide,” continue to emerge, Europe’s rigid immigration policies have come under the spotlight.
Approximately 850 asylum seekers, including many children, drowned onboard a three-deck fishing trawler on Saturday near the coast of Libya, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees UNHCR. Among those on board were 350 Eritreans, as well as people from Syria, Somalia, Ethiopia, and other African countries.
Stories about small ill-equipped fishing boats overcrowded with refugees, young men scaling fences, and corpses washing up on European beaches, have captured the public and political imagination since the late 1990s when Europe increased its external border control.
And those who make it safely to Europe are most likely to end up in detention centers in countries like Italy and Malta, home to Europe’s strictest detention policy. Media reports and rights groups have often criticized the inadequate living conditions and extensive duration of detention in some of these centers in Europe.
Survivors often bring to light tales of horror, torture, hunger, and mistreatment by human-traffickers who continue to exploit the power vacuum caused by the prolonged conflict in Libya and other hostile areas.
The few survivors of Saturday’s tragedy told investigators how the African and Asian migrants, had waited up to a month in Libya for the boat to set sail for Europe. One said he had suffered a beating at the hands of people traffickers, according to Reuters.
Up to one million Sub-Saharan migrants and Syrian refugees are still waiting in Libya to start a new life in Europe, according to the EU’s border agency Frontex.
“Their personal security will be greatly improved in much of Europe. Just being able to access some of the basic services will be seen as preferable to remaining in conflict zones,” he added.
But as the tragedies in the waters between Libya and Italy multiply every week, rights groups are calling on the European Union to review its immigration policies.
“European governments, whose policies have contributed to this trend cannot absolve themselves of their responsibility to save the lives of those desperate enough to attempt the crossing,” said Elisa de Pieri, a researcher on Europe at Amnesty International.
More than 36,000 refugees and migrants have reached southern Europe by sea this year so far - and if this week’s death toll is confirmed - at least 1,600 have died, according UNHCR.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) puts the number of migrant deaths in 2015 so far at 30 times last year’s total during this period.