Each week in Brussels normally begins in the same way. Most people take the metro, the bus, the tram, drive or simply walk in order to move from one side of the city to another. They go to university, do their shopping, or go to work (if they are lucky enough to have a job in the current economic climate). It is a scene similar to that which takes place in any other European city, included some impatience about the traffic or about - presumed or real - public transport delays. Often though, there is no time to think that, at any given moment and maybe not so far away, different itineraries are in operation and that the price paid by their protagonists could be too high.
On the 11th of May, Al Arabia spread the following information coming from Tripoliâ€™s government: â€śAt least 40 people died and 51 others were rescued after a boat carrying mostly sub-Saharan African migrants sank off Libya's coast east of Tripoliâ€ť. Once again tens of people boarded with their hopes and dreams onto a â€śvesselâ€ť void of any guarantee to keep afloat and the only thing they found was a â€śwet tombâ€ť, this time â€śaround 60 km east of Tripoliâ€ť. According to la Repubblica.it, Libyan authorities let it be known "that if the European Union wonâ€™t makeâ€ť more effort to support the North African state â€śin the management of migrants using the Country as a transit point towards Europe, the Libyan government will help them in their illegal journeyâ€ť. Probably an irresponsible provocation, to request â€śassistanceâ€ť that would facilitate them in stopping "migrants illegally arriving from sub-Saharan nationsâ€ť and desirous to reach the â€śOld Continentâ€ť. After, in effect, the news agency ANSA reported that Tripoli â€śretraced its stepsâ€ť by a public statement underlining its â€świll to keep on collaborating with Europe and Italy in order to limit the migrants inflowâ€ť. In any case, this sequence of tragic events did not seem to leave much space to polemics, if we consider that, on the 12th of May, another sinking ship carried more victims to their deaths. On the same day, the Corriere del Mezzogiorno.it mentioned 17 â€ścadaversâ€ť had been recovered and many more people - â€śprobably two hundredâ€ť - were already â€śat the bottom of the sea if itâ€™s trueâ€ť that there were around â€śfour hundredâ€ť people on board. This time, the tragedy unfolded â€ś40 miles off Libyaâ€™s coastsâ€ť and, when the quoted article was published, two hundred migrants had been saved by â€śItalian shipsâ€ť and some â€śfreightersâ€ť which had changed course.
The Mediterranean Sea seems to be becoming more and more a place where thousands of people decide to take a gamble with their lives. But how many people choose to cross Mare Nostrum in such precarious conditions? Letâ€™s mention some figures posted on the International Organization for Migrationâ€™s website. In 2013, more than â€ś45,000 migrants risked their lives in the Mediterranean to reach Italy and Maltaâ€ť and the â€śarrivals are the highest since 2008, with the exception of 2011 - the year of the Libyan crisisâ€ť. Among these persons, over â€ś42,900 landed in Italy and 2,800 landed in Malta. Of those who arrived in Italy, over 5,400 were women and 8,300 were minors â€“ some 5,200 of them unaccompanied. Most of the landings took place in Lampedusa (14,700) and along the coast around Syracuse in Sicily (14,300)â€ť. At the beginning of this year, remember that â€śon 24 January, 204 migrants were rescued by the Italian navy in the Straits of Sicily and landed in Augusta, close to Syracuseâ€ť. It is a matter of â€śpeople who are escaping from war, persecution, poverty and hungerâ€ť. Often, when they disappear, â€śtheir loss simply remains unknownâ€ť.
In the face of such a human drama, it is essential that the European Union act as one player and that its Member States work together to fight against illegal migration and its exploitation, to improve regular channels to assist people desirous to come to Europe, to rescue the victims of shipwrecks and other disasters. Moreover, when policy makers report on such a topic, it would be important - beyond the difference of ideas and approaches - to avoid populist stances and to try, among other things, to consider the reasons pushing a person to put his or her life in the hands of unscrupulous individuals profiteering from a â€śdesperation vesselâ€ť. This consideration is not only a way to recall human solidarity, but it also reminds us that, in order to deal with the migration phenomenon in a serious way, understanding the reasons behind each flow of migrants -legal or illegal- is fundamental.
Angelo Tino is currently an Intern at the United Nations Regional Information Center (UNRIC).