VIA Daily Mail
Crammed into an overloaded rubber dinghy, frightened migrants plunge into the sea as their journey to a promised new life in Europe turns to terror. At least seven drowned in the Mediterranean as their rickety vessels listed and took on water. An eight-year-old boy was among the dead.
More than 6,000 were saved on Friday and Saturday by the Italian coastguard in dozens of operations as the warm weather prompted a surge in migrants making the perilous trip from North Africa. The desperate scenes came after critics accused the European Union of ‘incentivising failure’ by encouraging gangs to use unseaworthy boats because they know their passengers will be rescued.
Aid workers were yesterday struggling to save up to 1,800 more migrants in an ongoing operation, the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) charity said.
Seven flimsy rubber dinghies and two wooden vessels were put to sea by human traffickers raking in billions of pounds. The charity said it had rescued at least 453, but more than 1,000 remained in danger.
MOAS founder Christopher Catrambone said: ‘Nobody has ever seen anything like what we are witnessing this weekend. It is a miracle that we have managed to rescue everyone.’
The Libyan coastline remains a hotspot for such rescues. At least 97 migrants died last Thursday, when their boat sank. Just 23 were rescued. In late February, 87 bodies washed ashore in Libya. Last month a senior diplomat warned that more than a million migrants were in Libya waiting to cross to Europe.
Joseph Walker-Cousins, former head of the British Embassy in Benghazi, said refugees were massing in the country after fleeing conflict and poverty.
People smuggling has become especially deadly as traffickers are using riskier tactics, bigger boats and less seaworthy vessels. So far this year, the United Nations estimates 32,750 people have arrived in Europe by sea, with about 826 dead or missing.
Mr Walker-Cousins said Operation Sophia – the EU naval mission set up to reduce people trafficking across the Mediterranean and prevent migrants dying at sea – was ‘incentivising failure’.
It encouraged criminal gangs to put refugees to sea in overcrowded, rickety vessels in the knowledge that if they capsized, EU ships would try to rescue the stricken human cargo, he said.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it was working to smash the smugglers’ trade, with 414 boats destroyed and 109 arrests. But officials conceded destroying vessels had resulted in gangs using worse boats.
In December, a bombshell report claimed charities are colluding with human traffickers to transport migrants across the Med. Frontex, the EU’s border agency, said there were ‘clear indications’ that gangs were in cahoots with non-governmental organisations. Several charities use their own vessels to rescue migrants and give emergency medical care while awaiting larger ships to shuttle them into an Italian port.
The report said migrants had been given ‘clear indications before departure on the precise direction to be followed in order to reach the NGOs’ boats’. Figures revealed the number of rescues triggered by a distress signal fell from roughly two-thirds of all incidents last summer to just one in ten in October. It coincided with a rise in the number of rescues carried out by charities.