Refugee drownings 'skyrocket' across Mediterranean as Italy's new far-right government blocks rescue boats

More than 600 lives lost on hazardous crossing into Europe in past four weeks

Tom Barnes
Friday 13 July 2018 16:43 BST
Charity boat rescues migrants off the coast of Italy

The number of people who have drowned in the Mediterranean has “skyrocketed” in recent months humanitarian organisations have said, as Italy’s new government takes a tough approach to migrants.

More than 600 individuals are thought to have been killed in the central Mediterranean in the past four weeks alone, representing half of the deaths to have taken place on the hazardous crossing so far in 2018.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and migrant search-and-rescue organisation SOS Méditerranée blamed the Italian government, among other European authorities, for the “skyrocketing” death toll.

Last month, Italy blocked a ship operated by the organisations from disembarking with 630 migrants rescued from sea.

“The European political decisions that have been taken during the past weeks have had deadly consequences,” said Karline Kleijer, MSF head of emergencies.

“There has been a cold-blooded decision to leave men, women and children to drown in the Mediterranean Sea. This is outrageous and unacceptable.

“Rather than deliberately obstructing the provision of life-saving medical and humanitarian assistance to people in distress at sea, European governments must set up proactive and dedicated search and rescue capacities in the central Mediterranean.”

Italy’s new government is formed of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the far-right, anti-immigrant League party, who reached a coalition deal at the beginning of July after weeks of negotiations.

League leader and Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini called earlier this month for other EU nations to follow its lead and block migrant rescue ships from landing on European shores.

The summer months are peak season for people smugglers, who use calm conditions on the Mediterranean to send out migrants from the Libyan coast, often in unseaworthy, overcrowded boats.

Since 2014, some 650,000 migrants, mainly from Africa and the Middle East, are thought to have arrived in Italy, but many are thought to have later headed to northern European nations.

Meanwhile, Mr Salvini reacted angrily on Friday after president Sergio Mattarella made a rare intervention in Italian politics to end a dispute over a migrant boat.

The ship, carrying 67 migrants who had been rescued at sea, was blocked from mooring at a Sicilian port by the interior minister.

However, Mr Mattarella, who has a largely ceremonial role and intervenes in decisions only rarely, telephoned non-partisan prime minister Giuseppe Conte late on Thursday expressing his concerns over the situation.

Mr Conte then ordered the migrants to be allowed off the ship, a move Mr Salvini said he had learned of with “regret and amazement”.

Mr Salvini said alleged violent conduct by some of the migrants needed to be investigated first, tweeting on Friday that he would not let the case lie, adding someone “has to pay” if the claims are proven.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in