An estimated 700 migrants drowned to death after a ship taking them to Europe from Libya capsized in the Mediterranean Sea on Saturday night. Rescuers led by the Italian Coast Guard are still searching for bodies and the death count is expected to rise. The disaster could be the deadliest migrant trip across the Mediterranean yet.
At a meeting in Luxembourg today, European Union foreign ministers attempted to come up with a more humane policy to deal with the migrants, but the group has struggled to come to a cohesive plan. The interior minister of Latvia, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, suggested creating a permanent search and rescue team, but many worry that will increase the number of migrants attempting the journey.
“Search and rescue alone is not a silver bullet,” German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told Reuters. “If you just organize search and rescue, criminals who get the refugees on board will send more boats.”
This year, as many as 1800 migrants have died trying to make the voyage, according to Reuters.
Many of these migrants attempt the perilous voyage in an effort to flee violence and poverty in war-ravaged countries like Syria, Iraq, Somalia and Libya. A spate of violence in recent months and more favorable weather has increased the number of people trying to cross to Europe. Malta and Italy, the closest countries to the African Coast, have received the brunt of the immigration wave.
But European countries facing a tough economic climate at home are struggling to respond. Last year Italy shut down a navy operation on its southern coast because of high costs and domestic pressure to curb the number of immigrants attempting to cross.
British Prime Minister David Cameron suggested the battle should be against the traffickers, who pack unstable boats with hundreds of people that pay absurd fees for the trip.
“We should put the blame squarely with the criminal human traffickers who are the ones managing, promoting and selling this trade, this trade in human life,” he told the Associated Press.
Police in Italy said they broke up a major smuggling ring and issued arrest warrants for 24 people, 14 of them in Italy.