By Linda Bordoni
On 3 October 2013 a migrant boat sank while sailing towards the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa. The final death toll is never to be known, but 194 bodies were recovered and 363 people were declared missing.
“Never Again” said Europe, as leaders and institutions released a series of well-intentioned statements. Thus, 3 October was established as the National Day in Remembrance of the Victims of Immigration.
But six years on, men, women and children continue to die during the crossing. According to the International Organization for Migration, since then more than 15,000 people have lost their lives in the central Mediterranean, the most fatal migration route in the world. It is also the deadliest place for children, with 678 registered deaths.
Pope Francis has repeatedly called on leaders and policy-makers to assume responsibility and provide safe access routes, relief and shelter for those forced to flee their homelands.
Yet again, celebrating the World Day for Migrants and Refugees on Sunday, he denounced the fact that weapons of war continue to be produced and sold by nations who are unwilling to take in the refugees generated by the very conflicts that force people to resort to traffickers, suffering all kinds of violence and putting their lives at risk.
Notwithstanding its promises, in the six years since the 3 October shipwreck, Europe has increasingly scaled down search and rescue operations, choosing to protect borders and not people, while discouraging those committed to rescue at sea.
While the recent summit in Malta could represent a first step towards a shared European responsibility on condition that the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council concretely commits member countries to ensure full compliance with international law, NGOs and humanitarian organizations are calling for an increase in search and rescue capacity. This would include a return of EU state vessels to search and rescue operations, and an acknowledgement of the crucial role of NGO boats in saving lives at sea.
As political leaders continue to drag their feet, people continue to die, like the 40 men, women and children whose boat capsized off the coast of Morocco last weekend.