The drama took place yesterday off the coast of Steccato di Cutro, a town in the Italian region of Calabria. It is estimated that there were between 180 and 200 people on the ship. Many of them are still missing. At least fourteen children are among the victims.
The ship had been on its way to Italy for days. The starting point would have been Izmir in Turkey. Mostly Afghans, Pakistanis and Iranians were on board. They made the long journey across the Mediterranean.
More migrants in Italy
Figures from the UN Refugee Organization show that the number of boat people reaching Italy is increasing again. The number is also increasing more than in Spain or Greece. This month alone, more than 9,300 migrants made the crossing. That is more than three times as many people as in February last year.
The vast majority of migrants arrived in Sicily this year. They mostly come from North African countries such as Tunisia and Libya. But hundreds of migrants are also arriving in Calabria, the southwestern tip at the front of the Italian ‘boot’. These migrants mainly depart from Turkey, just like the migrant ship that was shipwrecked this weekend.
But why did they choose to try to reach Europe through Italy, and not through countries much closer? We cannot know for sure, says migration researcher Jeroen Doomernik of the University of Amsterdam, but there are factors that may play a role.
“Previously, the migration route to Greece was mainly used when leaving Turkey.” That route is now more difficult to travel due to so-called pushbacks in Greece. “All belongings are taken away and the ships are towed out of the territorial waters again,” says Doomernik. “Some people return to Turkey without clothes.”
Performing pushbacks, pushing migrants back across the border shortly after arrival, is illegal, but it does happen, according to Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups.
People smugglers know that the pushbacks make it difficult for them to get to Greece. “It’s bad business for them if their boats keep being sent back.” So they are looking at alternatives, says the researcher. “Pushbacks are cruel and inhumane, but they do work.”
Italy as an alternative
And then Italy is an option. “The country has long coasts, you generally get there.” Especially in Calabria, where not many migrant ships arrive and the coastguard is therefore less active, says Doomernik.
It worries migration expert Ralph Severijns of the Red Cross. People still have to take a lot of risks to regain their safety, he says: “We see that the Mediterranean route is still the most deadly migration route in the world. The sea can be rough and there is no active rescue by states.”
“So if you get into trouble, there aren’t many ships to come and rescue you.” According to him, politicians should focus more on safe migration methods, such as resettlement. “In any case, we hope that the answer from politicians will not be to make aid from aid organizations more difficult, thereby forcing migrants to take even more risks. Ultimately, we work from the conviction that no one is in such a situation for fun.” a boat goes.”
Spring means more ships
Doomernik cannot predict whether several migrants will make the same journey in the future. “But the Greek border control is not getting less, and the need to seek asylum from people who flee is not diminishing,” he notes. With spring, and with it calmer sea waters, it is certainly possible that more ships will venture across.
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