Thousands more men, women and children will die in the coming weeks unless more rescue assets are immediately deployed to the Mediterranean Sea, according to search and rescue charity Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS).
Around 700 people are believed to have drowned last night after a large boat capsized off Lampedusa in the worst-ever migrant tragedy in the Mediterranean Sea.
MOAS says that politics needs to be taken out of search and rescue in the Mediterranean, as more and more migrants take to the sea in unsafe vessels (photo courtesy MOAS).
UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has expressed his shock at the latest boat capsizing on the Mediterranean, and the hundreds of lives reported to have been lost.
As of a short time ago, according to information from the Maltese authorities, only around 50 of the 700 reported to be aboard, had been rescued.
Should these numbers be confirmed, the incident – which happened overnight – will be the largest loss of life from any incident on the Mediterranean involving refugees and migrants. It follows an incident only last week in which 400 lives were lost. The Lampedusa disaster of October 2013 saw almost 600 lives lost in two separate incidents.
Available information is that the boat overturned shortly before midnight on Saturday, in Libyan waters, some 180 km south of Italy’s Lampedusa. Italian and Maltese naval vessels and merchant ships have been among the approximately 20 vessels, along with several helicopters, that are engaged in the rescue operation being coordinated by the Italian authorities.
UNHCR is currently awaiting confirmation on where the survivors are being taken.
“This disaster confirms how urgent it is to restore a robust rescue-at-sea operation and establish credible legal avenues to reach Europe. Otherwise people seeking safety will continue to perish at sea,” said António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “But it also points to the need for a comprehensive European approach to address the root causes that drive so many people to this tragic end. I hope the EU will rise to the occasion, fully assuming a decisive role to prevent future such tragedies."
MOAS will redeploy its own rescue operation on May 2, after saving some 3,000 lives in 60 days last year. In this year’s operation it will be partnering up with Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which will take care of the post-rescue care of migrants taken on board.
“Every day we are waking up to news of more deaths in the Mediterranean. Scaling down Europe’s rescue operations has not discouraged these desperate migrants from risking their lives in these dangerous crossings. It has only led to more deaths,” said MOAS director Brig. Ret’d. Martin Xuereb.
“We must take politics out of search and rescue. We must put saving lives at the top of the agenda. Meanwhile, society must not be a bystander. We must lead by example and show support to the search and rescue efforts being undertaken. The people making these crossings are people like us, with hopes and aspirations. They do not deserve to be left at sea to die,” he added.
MOAS, which is equipped with a 40-metre vessel, two Schiebel camcopters, two rescue RHIBs, and a 20-strong professional crew of seafarers, rescuers, doctors and paramedics, is currently seeking funding to allow it to operate a year-long rescue operation.
MOAS depends on donations from the public which can be made on www.moas.eu
Brig. Ret’d Martin Xuereb speaks in detail about MOAS in this issue of CRJ – click here for details