UN calls EU Refugee Rescue Operation ‘Woefully Inadequate’ as Smuggling Season Begins

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is calling on the EU to step up its search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean after a drastic increase in deaths aboard smugglers’ boats.  The agency describes the current EU operation, Triton, as a “woefully inadequate” replacement for Italy’s Mare Nostrum, which ended in October 2014.

The UN Refugee Agency LogoThis comes after reports that earlier this week four rubber dinghies capsized off the coast of Libya, leaving only 9 survivors picked up by the Italian Coast Guard.  As a result of the incident 300 migrants and refugees are missing and believed drowned.

One survivor recalls, “They forced us to climb aboard the ship with guns and sticks, robbing us of all our belongings.”

“We know that it is only thanks to God and the Italian Coast Guard that we are alive and we will be forever grateful for this,” another told the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

On Sunday, 29 West African immigrants died of hypothermia in severe weather conditions off the Italian coast.

Trafficking of migrants can generate large profits for smugglers. In January, a vessel packed with 360 Syrians was intercepted en route from Turkey to Italy, where the migrants reported paying up to US$ 8,000 to the smugglers for safe passage.  That same week, another ship was intercepted carrying 770 migrants.  In both cases, the smugglers had abandoned the vessels before they reached their destination, leaving the migrants and refugees stranded.

According to an IOM report, 4,077 migrants lost their lives in 2014.  By this point last year, 27 migrants had died, raising fears that 2015 may be an even deadlier year for migrants.