Accessibility links

Italy Accident Draws Attention to African Migrants' Plight

  • Pamela Dockins

The body of a drowned migrant is being unloaded from a Coast Guard boat in the port of Lampedusa, Italy, Oct. 3, 2013.

The body of a drowned migrant is being unloaded from a Coast Guard boat in the port of Lampedusa, Italy, Oct. 3, 2013.

The boat accident near the Italian island of Lampedusa that resulted in what is feared to be more than 300 deaths is part of a broader problem involving African migrants who risk dangerous voyages to seek a better life.

Jumbe Omari Jumbe, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, says there are four "gates" used by Africans who are trying to escape their homelands or the continent.

Recent Maritime Accidents Involving Migrants

-October 3, 2013: Estimates of 300 people dead or missing after boat catches fires and capsizes near Italian island of Lampedusa.
-September 27, 2013: At least 21 asylum seekers, mostly from the Middle East, killed after boat bound for Australia sinks off Indonesia's coast.
-December 18, 2012: Boat carrying migrants capsized off Somali coast. U.N. Refugee agency says as many as 55 people killed.
-December 16, 2012: Migrant boat traveling from Turkey to Greece capsized. At least 20 people killed.
-September 6, 2012: Boat carrying illegal immigrants sinks near western Turkey. At least 58 people drown.
He says the main gate is used by migrants in the Horn of Africa region who are trying to reach Yemen and then possibly travel to Saudi Arabia.

The second gate also involves Horn of Africa migrants, who pass through Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and Zimbabwe to reach South Africa.

He says the third gate involves migrants from West Africa, who pass through Morocco to reach Spain and other destinations in Europe.

And finally, there is what he calls the "Mediterranean Gate."

“Here, many Africans who are fleeing persecution. It’s a mixed flow of migrants. Some of them are actually trying to seek better lives in Europe. They make Libya a transit to reach Italy and sometimes Malta and other parts of southern Europe," said Jumbe.

He says many migrants rely on smugglers for the perilous voyage across the sea.

The United Nations refugee agency says the Mediterranean has some of world's busiest sea crossings and is a "dangerous frontier for migrants and asylum-seekers."

In a July release, the office of the High Commissioner for Refugees estimated about 8,400 migrants and asylum-seekers had reached Italy and Malta this year.

It said most of them had departed from North Africa, mainly Libya.

The refugee agency says about 500 migrants died or went missing as they attempted the crossing last year. In 2011, at the height of unrest in Tunisia and Libya, more than 1,500 migrants died or went missing.

”It is a real shame that people, particularly those who are fleeing violence, conflict, persecution are ending up dead just simply because they want to flee and reach safety somewhere else. This is unacceptable," said agency spokeswoman Melissa Fleming.

Fleming says migrants will continue to risk these dangerous journeys as long as persecution, conflict and violence continue in their home countries.

"They are going to seek asylum, to seek refuge, to seek safety in other countries. They should not have to resort to taking careless sea journeys where their lives are at stake," she said.

Fleming says the plight of migrants needs to be a priority by the international community.

Show comments