On Sunday 12 April 2015, 400 people lost their lives in a shipwreck off the Italian coasts.
The number of victims outnumbers by far the tragic events of October 2013, when 366 migrants drowned near Lampedusa.
How come that such horror may happen again, 18 months after a tragedy which had aroused indignation among the European Union (EU), the heads of state and governments? Why is it, that,in 2014, more migrants lost their lives in the Mediterranean than ever before? Over 3,500 people died or were reported missing last year, five times as many as in 2013!
The number of people trying to cross the Mediterranean has considerably increased.
They were over 200,000 in 2014 according to the UNHCR, three times as many as in 2011.
They flee countries like Eritrea, Syria, Libya or Palestine, i.e. war zones or countries where human rights are violated. In such circumstances, it is shocking that European countries stick to their main objective – preventing people from reaching their territory rather than rescuing and protecting them.
It is unbelievable that death and disappearance at European gates turn out to be commonplace news, as if something unavoidable.
Beyond the alleged willingness to limit the number of shipwrecks and to save lives, the EU and its member states have merely barred access to their territory, particularly the maritime routes, including for people needing protection and who seek asylum, by maintaining their visa policies with the support of Frontex agency and the Eurosur surveillance system.
Thus, being perfectly aware of the situation, the EU and its member states, Italy included, have set up a border surveillance operation called Triton. This operation was launched after the Italian sea and rescue operation Mare Nostrum came to an end in late 2014. It is co-ordinated by Frontex  and its first task is not to save lives but to control migration « flows ».
Yet, upon the launch of Mare Nostrum, Italy seemed to have paved the way to a different approach in line with its international obligations to search and rescue people in distress at sea. A similar effort could have been deployed by all member states, thereby avoiding the loss of thousands of lives.
The heads of states as well as European institutions cannot escape their responsibility in this tragedy by shifting the blame onto smugglers as the cause for vessels which capsize in the Mediterranean. Migrants would not turn to smugglers were they able to travel legally. Those who embark on insecure boats to cross the sea are the same that are refused the right to obtain a visa and to move freely.
A radical change in the rationale underpinning the EU’s asylum and migration policies is urgently needed so that priority is given to the respect of migrants’ rights, the obligation to rescue people at sea and to provide access to the European territory for people needing protection.
The right to free movement is and will remain a demand voiced by people crossing the Mediterranean: the European Union has no choice but to finally take it into consideration.
Boats4People is a international coalition of NGOs. The following organisations are members of the coalition : AME (association malienne des expulsés), ARCI (associazione ricreativa culturale italiana), ARACEM (association des rapatriés d’Afrique centrale au Mali), CIMADE, FASTI (Fédération des associations de solidarité avec les travailleurs immigrés), FTDES (Forum tunisien pour les droits économiques et sociaux), GADEM (groupe antiraciste d’accompagnement et de défense des étrangers et migrants), GISTI (groupe d’information et de soutien aux immigrés), le réseau euro-africain MIGREUROP, etc.
The following NGOs have also signed this press release : ATMF (association des travailleurs maghrébins en France), FTCR (fédération des tunisiens pour une citoyenneté des deux rives), ACORT, (assemblée citoyenne des originaires de Turquie), REMDH (réseau euroméditerranéen des droits de l’homme), FIDH (Fédération internationale des droits de l’homme), Mouvement de la paix, UGTT (Union générale tunisienne du travail), AEDH (association européenne pour la défense des droits de l’homme)