More than 800 refugees drowned in the sinking of a boat on Saturday, April 18, 2015 in the Mediterranean, making it the deadliest disaster to occur in the area.
Details of the tragedy emerged when the United Nation refuge agency interviewed 28 survivors that were rescued off the coast of Catania, Sicily.
Survivors said that there were about 850 refugees on the ship, but only 24 bodies have been recovered.
“From available information and the various accounts we’ve had, UNHCR now believes the number of fatalities to have been over 800, making this the deadliest incident in the Mediterranean that we have recorded,” said UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards.
Survivors told aid workers the wreck was caused when one of the smugglers crashed the boat against a Portuguese-flagged ship, which was responding to a distress call. Prosecutors said that the captain, a 27-year-old Tunisian named Mohammed Ali Malek, rammed the Portuguese vessel.
Scared migrants rushed to one side of the overcrowded boat, which was already unbalanced from the collision. Water leaked in the boat before finally tipping over and sinking.
Most people on board were unable to escape because they were locked below deck on the lower two levels. Hundreds of others were squeezed on the upper deck. Also, the inexperience of the captain contributed to the crash.
“I feel really bad for the people on the ship. It is sad how 800 innocent people died. They were just looking for a better life, and because of the way of transportation they drowned and they died,” said freshman Austen Poye.
The International Organization for Migration said the rate of migrant deaths in the Mediterranean this year is far higher than in 2014, when a total of 3,279 people died, and in 2013, when around 700 migrants died. So far, about 1,776 people died this year, and the death rate is about 30 times higher than last year.
The 2015 death toll “could well top 30,000,” said Joel Millman, an IOM spokesman. “We just want to make sure people understand how much more … rapid[ly] these deaths have been coming this year than last year.”
People are fleeing to Europe for multiple reasons. Eritreans want to escape military service, Somalis flee Al-Shabaab and clan warfare, and Syrians have given up hope of returning home. In villages in Senegal and elsewhere across West Africa, young men sell all they have in the hope of a better life in Europe.
The migrants say they leave because they have no other choice. People suffer from extreme poverty, sexual violence, and lack of access to basic needs such as food, medical services, and healthcare.
“With the conditions that they had to live [in], I think they made the right choice to leave. No one should live like that, and it is sad how they died,” said freshman Justin Murray.
The European Union agreed on Monday, April 20, 2015 to expand its Mediterranean Sea rescue effort from waters where migrants travel.
The EU will also provide more funds to seek and destroy smuggler ships, and devote more resources to process, return and resettle migrants.
How can we solve this crisis and save lives?