On Sunday April 19th, 700 refugees drowned in the Mediterranean as a 20-meter vessel capsized. So far, in 2015 alone, there has been a confirmed 1,500 deaths at sea. In 2014, more than 3,000 refugees perished in the Mediterranean. The passage has become a graveyard – a humanitarian disaster. According to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, there is an obligation on states to protect and assist refugees who reach their territory. These principles however have been neglected by EU member states, resulting in thousands of deaths at sea. Over the past few years, due to persecution and war, a vast number of refugees from Syria, Libya, Somalia, and other war torn regions of Africa and the Middle East, have sought safe haven in Europe. By doing so, many have precariously boarded questionable boats to cross the Mediterranean for a second chance, and many have failed.
The EU border agency, Frontex, initially had a program by the name of Mare Nostrum in Italy that was in charge of border controls and had saved at least 100,000 lives at sea. In October of 2014, Frontex began to scrap the search and rescue operation to replace it with Triton, a project operating on a budget that is less than a third of its predecessor and only searching 30 kilometers off the coast of Italy. The result of a less rigorous search effort and the increased conflict on the opposite side of the sea is a far greater loss of life per year. Triton is an example of EU’s lack of funding and humanitarian commitment to take in the influx of refugees.
The problem stems from a lack of international responsibility, a lack of proper funding for the search and rescue operations and a lack of space within European states to hold refugees. Southern European nations are most affected by the refugee crisis, such as Italy. Italy has consistently asked for more assistance from other European states to divide and take responsibility for refugees who reach their shores. Anti-immigrant parties claim that projects, such as Mare Nostrum, have led to an increase in human trafficking and have seen it as a “taxi service for migrants.”
How can a peaceful and tolerant solution be found? It can be said with confidence that no one will leave their homes and cross a sea simply for benefits. The push factors for people living in Libya, Syria, Somalia, or Eritrea etc. are just too high to be dismissed. Peaceful international aid or intervention to help these nations on their own terms is one important step to lowering the number of people fleeing from their homes. If they feel safe, if there is a future for their families, they are less likely to cross the sea to Europe. This effort must be taken simultaneously, as a collective International responsibility should be taken up to organize the refugee influx. All nations must step in and play host so as to not burden one sole state with the rapid increase of population. A battle for peace, democracy and prosperity is not a single state effort; it is an international effort, a fight for humanity and a fight for peace.