Hundreds of migrants were on a boat that capsized Sunday in the Mediterranean Sea. Many travelers were feared to have been locked behind closed doors with no means to escape. An estimated 950 people were on the ship.
CNN reported: As rescuers approached, authorities say migrants on the boat moved to one side, hoping to be saved. Their movement caused the large, multilevel boat to capsize about 110 kilometers (almost 70 miles) north of Libya, sending the desperate crowd plunging into the sea, their chance of survival slim.
It was the latest in a series of dangerous voyages for hundreds of men, women and children who boarded the boat in Libya, hoping to make it safely to Europe. Passengers on the boat were from a number of nations, including Algeria, Egypt, Somalia, Niger, Senegal, Mali, Zambia, Bangladesh and Ghana, prosecutors said.
While the shipwreck was an accident, Malta’s Prime Minister slammed the human traffickers who he accused of risking people’s lives by putting them on rickety ships in unpredictable waters.
“Gangs of criminals are putting people on a boat, sometimes even at gunpoint,” Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said. “They’re putting them on the road to death, really, and nothing else.”
“The EU is standing by with arms crossed while hundreds die off its shores,” said Judith Sunderland, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “These deaths might well have been prevented if the EU had launched a genuine search-and-rescue effort.”
The European Commission released a statement saying, “The European Commission is deeply chagrined by the tragic developments in the Mediterranean today, but also over the past days and weeks. The reality is stark and our actions must therefore be bold. These are human lives at stake, and the European Union as a whole has a moral and humanitarian obligation to act.”
The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) issued a statement Monday.
“As up to 950 people are feared dead in the latest tragedy in the Mediterranean Sea, FRA reiterates its call for a holistic, fundamental rights-oriented EU migration policy in order to save lives and combat the smugglers that seek to make financial gain out of the desperate situation of people in need of protection,” the statement read.
“Adults and children who were fleeing persecution or simply seeking a better future for themselves or their families are dying in horrific circumstances,” said FRA interim Director Constantinos Manolopoulos. “No single country or organization can solve this issue alone, and this is why we need to redouble our efforts in the EU to develop a comprehensive migration policy based on solidarity – both with the migrants and with each other.”
FRA has argued for a fundamental rights-based approach to border surveillance with greater cooperation between EU Member States and third countries, as well as an increase in the number of legal avenues by which those in need of international protection can reach the EU.
In this context, EU Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said at FRA’s 2014 Fundamental Rights Conference that one of the reasons for so many lost lives is that it is too difficult for people seeking protection to enter the EU legally. A recent FRA paper discusses the lack of legal entry options and proposes ways of increasing access to the EU for people in need of international protection, helping to make the right to asylum set forth in Article 18 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights a reality for refugees and other people in need of international protection.
For more information, see FRA’s report Fundamental rights at Europe’s southern sea borders.