On Sunday, April 19, between 500 and 950 people were feared to have died on a sinking boat traveling from Libya to Italy. The migrant ship capsized just off the coast of Lampedusa, the largest island of the Italian Pelagie Islands. As the boat sank, the passengers rushed to the side of the ship in order to get the attention of a passing merchant vessel.
As of April 21, approximately 28 people had been rescued and 24 bodies have been recovered, according to Reuters. The island of Lampedusa has a population of about 5,000 people and there are currently 1,000 migrants being held in a detention center on the island, according to the BBC.
In the past week, the Italian coast guard has rescued 10,000 migrants whose boats either capsized or were in danger of capsizing. Since Jan. 1, 2015, at least 900 migrants have died. If this most recent migrant sinking is as fatal as predicted, it would bring the total number of fatalities in 2015 to approximately 1,500 lives lost. “Meet the Press” host, Chuck Todd, believes the migrants were fleeing Libya based on the current turmoil resulting from the Libyan Civil War.
Carlotta Sami, a spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refuges (UNHCR) stated, “At the moment, we fear that this is a tragedy of really vast proportions. It seems we are looking at the worst massacre ever seen in the Mediterranean.”
This is the second nautical failure within a week’s time. On Sunday, April 12, 400 migrants were feared to have drowned after their boat capsized by the Libyan shore after bad weather, according to the BBC.
Pope Francis has spoken out about these tragedies. He expressed his sorrow for the multiple deaths and has called to the international community to help prevent the further sinking of other migrant boats. During his noon address on Sunday, April 19, at St. Peter’s Square, the Pope said, “These are men and women like us who seek a better life. Hungry, persecuted, injured, exploited, victims of wars. They were looking for happiness.”
He continued to say, “I make a heartfelt appeal to the international community to react decisively and quickly to see to it that such tragedies are not repeated.”
The Pope is not the only public figure asking for a stronger European response to these actions. According to Reuters, many international aid groups and the Italian authorities have criticized Triton, the European Unions Border Protection program. Triton has replaced Mare Nostrum, which is the Italian search-and-rescue mission. Many are upset because Triton does not have the search-and-rescue capabilities of Mare Nostrum, which are necessary in preventing tragedies such as this.
On Oct. 17, 2014, Amnesty International warned that replacing Mare Nostrum with Triton could risk the lives of thousands of migrants seeking refuge in Europe. John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Director stated before the implementation of Triton, “Triton is a border operation and does not have a search and rescue mandate. It will only operate close to Italian waters and not beyond, where it is most needed. Even Frontex [An EU agency] have said Triton does not have the resources to carry out the work of Mare Nostrum.”
“Italy must continue the Mare Nostrum search and rescue operation until there is a better-equipped alternative supported by other European countries – and Triton is certainly not it.” This criticism was in response to Italy’s Minister of Interior Angelino Alfano’s decision that Triton would replace Mare Nostrum.
Last year, 170,000 African and Middle Eastern people fled poverty and conflict for refuge in Italy, with thousands dying throughout the journeys. Just last week, the UNHCR reported to the BBC that 13,500 migrants attempted to flee to Italy.
Editor’s Note: Information from Reuters, BBC, Meet the Press, Amnesty International, Times of Malta and the Daily Mail was used in this report.