At the end of December, and in the space of four days, two ships, both carrying hundreds of migrants, were abandoned by their crew in rough Italian seas, in an effort to force the Italian authorities to rescue the passengers.
800 migrants were rescued from the Blue Sky M, a ship registered in Moldova was sailing with no crew five miles from the Italian coast. And 450 people, mostly Syrian refugees, were rescued later in the week from the Sierra Leone-registered Ezadeen. A passenger said they had been at sea for ten days, half of which without food or drink.
Traffickers buy old ships (“rust buckets at the end of their life”) for $100, 000 - $150, 000, and collect up to $6,000 per passenger for the “trip”. The profit to be gained is so huge that there are no second thoughts about abandoning the vessel.
These two incidents follow last October's cancellation of the rescue scheme run by Italian authorities, Operation Mare Nostrum, accused by the EU of being a prominent factor in why migrants were risking everything to get to Europe.
Despite refugee groups warning that the cancellation of Mare Nostrum could result in the most disastrous year yet for migrants in the Mediterranean, it has been replaced with “Triton”, led by EU border force Frontex, and covers only 30 miles off the coast of Italy, compared with Mare Nostrum's coverage of 70, 000 km2 of the sea. It will use a budget less than one third of Mare Nostrum's cost, and will have around 84% less manpower.
Often people making policies and laws speak as though these migrants are leaving their homes for a laugh, or are doing so out of anything other than desperation.
These catastrophes prove that whether or not Mare Nostrum was acting as a “pull factor” in bringing migrants into Europe, there will still be families fleeing horrific situations of war and political repression on their doorstep.