Hundreds More Die at Sea Fleeing North Africa for Europe

My piece on the terrible death toll from the Mediterranean immigration crisis was published in Time.

Of the more than 200 people who packed themselves onto a 40-foot boat for a dangerous journey out of Libya and across the Mediterranean earlier this week, only 51 are alive today. The rest are gone, swept into icy waters after their boat capsized during a rescue operation early Wednesday morning. The death toll is possibly the single biggest loss of life since unrest in North Africa drove thousands of migrants to flee to Europe. But it represents only a fraction of those who have died since the crossings began. Like the tip of an iceberg, Wednesday’s tragedy, which took place not far from the Italian island of Lampedusa, points to a larger problem looming underneath.

For every 25 migrants who have arrived safely in Europe, it’s likely that one didn’t make it, according to figures from advocacy group the Italian Refugee Council. Crammed onto treacherously overcrowded boats that are barely seaworthy, the passengers are given little or no food or water before being pushed off — without a compass to guide them — and pointed towards Europe. Even before this latest accident, at least 480 people have died or been lost at sea since the uprisings in Tunisia and Libya began, releasing a flood of migrants who are either taking advantage of dropped emigration barriers or fleeing the fighting and feared economic chaos. “Sadly, this number is the minimum,” says Christopher Hein, president of the Italian Refugee Council. “It includes only the ones we know about.” The number of lives lost in any given shipwreck or accident range from a few individuals to dozens at a time. The number of those lost in Wednesday’s accident — most of them sub-Saharan Africans — may have topped 250.

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