At least 100 migrants died when a ship capsized off the coast of Tunisia on June 2nd. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the incident was the deadliest attempted migration in 2018 so far.
The fishing vessel departed from Tunisia with around 180 migrants on board late Saturday evening and 2 hours later – the boat began to take on water. The Tunisian Army and the National Guard picked up the ship’s distress signal where it was eventually reported that there were only 68 survivors: “60 Tunisians, 2 Moroccans, 1 Libyan, 1 Malian, 1 Cameroonian and 3 Ivorians,” as stated by IOM; although one of them who pulled though told CNN that the actual capacity of the boat was between 75 and 90 people. They all were aided by the International Organization for Migration, the Ministry of Health, the Tunisian Red Crescent and the local authorities who arrested two smugglers connected to the sunken vessel.
Tunisia is a popular starting place for those trying to move to Italy in order to enter the European Union, according to CNN. The cost of the June 2nd voyage was between 2000 to 3000 TND which roughly equates to about 700 to 1000 EUR.
IOM data suggests that the Mediterranean is the most dangerous migration route in the world with a death toll of 785 in 2018 to date. If the 250-mile route isn’t treacherous enough, people face retaliation in Italy resulting from anti-immigration policies. In 2017, Italy agreed to support the Libyan coast guard to prevent anybody from attempting to cross waters into Italy.
As claimed by the Economist, the Italian government has pledged to deter settlers from migrating to Italy and deport those living in the Southern European country. This anti-immigration sentiment is an echo of 2016 EU policies where EU signed an agreement with Turkey to send back Syrian refugees who traveled from Turkey to Greece, deterring the Mediterranean crossing.
Migrants who get detained by the Libyan coast guard while trying to cross often get returned back to Africa where they may be thrown into a human trafficking ring. In a June 1st press briefing, the UNCHR warned, “many people fleeing war and persecution fall prey to criminal networks who exploit and abuse them or later often perish at sea while searching for safety in Europe.”
The June 2nd wreck highlights the danger faced by those trying to immigrate to the EU. Despite the risks, people still undertake the crossing. For many, migration represents a necessity rather than a choice. Al Jazeera recently reported that around 33 270 individuals have successfully crossed the Mediterranean and that warmer weather may encourage more to take on the dangerous voyage. Human rights organizations are calling on the EU to shift policies to promote legal immigration and aid migrants regardless of their legal status.