MESSAGES of hope from the Pope’s visit to Greece were overshadowed this week as hundreds of migrants and refugees were reported to have drowned in the Mediterranean while trying to cross by boat from Egypt to Italy.
At least 400 individuals, believed to be largely Somalis, with smaller numbers of Eritreans and Ethiopians, are feared dead, including children, after survivors of the incident reported to the UN refugee agency.
“Due to the overcrowding, the large boat sank,” UNHCR said in a statement on Wednesday. The 41 survivors said that the incident occurred several miles out to sea, after smugglers tried to transfer a group of migrants from a smaller boat to a larger repurposed fishing vessel, which then sank.
The whereabouts of the missing 400 had not been confirmed when the Church Times went to press on Wednesday. After the reports emerged on Monday, however, the Italian government promised to raise the shipwreck and recover the bodies, out of respect.
The chief executive of World Vision UK, Tim Pilkington, said that the incident “clearly shows that desperate, vulnerable people will risk everything to find security. I strongly urge David Cameron to create safe and legal routes to the UK, and a UK safe-haven for unaccompanied children.”
The tragedy, if confirmed, occurred one year after a shipwreck between Libya and Sicily. About 800 people, many of whom were locked into the hold, died when the 70ft-long boat in which they were held capsized at sea.
The chief executive of Save the Children, Tanya Steele, said in a statement: “A year on from one of the greatest migration tragedies in the Mediterranean, safe and legal routes have not been properly implemented.
“The lack of concrete measures to protect children who gamble and lose their lives to reach the perceived safety of Europe should weigh on all our minds.”
Separately, 33 refugees were rescued overnight on Monday off the eastern coast of Sicily. The International Organisation for Migration reported that about 6000 refugees sailed from Libya to Italy last week — the beginning of a wave of 100,000 million, it said.
The news came after 13 aid agencies, including World Vision, CAFOD, and Christian Aid, published a report last week, A Safe Haven?, calling on governments to expand safe and legal routes for refugees, and improve conditions of travel and the welcome refugees receive on arrival.
The report also accuses the UK of turning a blind eye to the suffering of refugees on its doorstep, and suggests that all world leaders take action to improve their response to the crisis (News, 15 April).
Since the Syria conflict began in March 2011, the UK has granted asylum to 5845 Syrians, and a further 1337 have been resettled in the country through the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme, the report says.
“This means that the UK has provided protection to just 0.15 per cent of the estimated 4.8 million Syrian refugees, and that — of the 555,485 Syrians who have applied for asylum in the EU in the last five years — just 1.6 per cent have applied in the UK,” it said.