Some 17,000 migrants have died in the first four months of 2015 attempting to reach European shores – a hundred times more than during the same period last year.
That’s according to figures released by Amnesty International in Brussels on the eve of Thursday’s (April 23) emergency EU summit on migration.
The organization blames the crisis on the end of Italy’s Mare Nostrum search and rescue operation.
“What we’re seeing is that more and more commercial boats are called upon to intervene because the law of the sea requires them to help when something happens close to where they are,” explained Philippe Hensmans of Amnesty International Belgium. “But these boats are not in any way equipped to do this. They have small crews and they don’t have the necessary tools to rescue people who are drowning.”
Mare Nostrum had a monthly budget of over 9 million euros and used a combination of vessels and aircraft to patrol waters south of the Italian island of Lampedusa, closer to the the area where most boats get into trouble.
The EU’s Triton mission that replaced Mare Nostrum has a budget of less than 3 million euros a month and has many fewer vessels and aircraft at its disposal. Triton also operates only as a border control mission and is confined to an area within 30 nautical miles of the Italian and Maltese coasts.
Amnesty is now calling on the EU to combine a multi-country humanitarian operation in the Mediterranean, mandated to save lives, with an increase in legal ways migrants can enter the region.
“What we need to see is genuine access to asylum, so opening all the land borders. We also need to see a dramatic increase in the number of resettlement places, the issuance of more humanitarian visas, and a more liberal approach to family reunifications,” Iverna McGowan, Acting Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office, told euronews at a press briefing on Wednesday (April 22).
The organization also criticized the EU for failing to help Syrian refugees. In the four years since the start of the Syrian crisis, Amnesty says Europe has only taken in just over 40,000 refugees, while the five countries neighbouring Syria have accepted over 3.9 million.