Deaths of Migrants at Sea Continue

Deaths of Migrants at Sea Continue

Only a few months have passed since hundreds of asylum seekers, mainly from Eritrea and Syria, died in the shipwrecks of October 3 and 11, 2013 in the Mediterranean Sea. The images of white coffins in Lampedusa were broadcast worldwide and national and world leaders vowed to take steps to ensure that these tragedies would not be repeated. Yet just a few days ago, on May 12, a boat full of migrants capsized forty miles from the coast of Libya: 206 persons were rescued, 17 dead bodies were taken from the sea (among them 2 children and 5 women) and an unknown number are missing.[1]  This tragedy followed another shipwreck near the Libyan coast just days before in which 36 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa lost their lives.

Since mid-October, the Italian Government has carried out a military and humanitarian operation named “Mare Nostrum” whose aim has been to control migration flows by strengthening surveillance and search-and-rescue (SAR) activities. Yet despite this initiative, according to data made available by FRONTEX,[2] 823 percent more migrants landed in Italy in the first four months of 2014 than in the same period in 2013.

It is evident that increased operations of SAR alone cannot prevent smuggling and future tragedies. There is an urgent need for increased cooperation among individual states, the European Union and other regional organizations in order to create humanitarian corridors and to work to promote humanitarian admissions and relocation plans.  Reunification with family members living in Europe or other countries should also be facilitated. These measures, if implemented, could provide asylum seekers, who have already been subjected to ferocious human rights violations, with an alternative to putting their lives at further risk at the hands of human smugglers. At present, from the point of view of thousands of asylum seekers stuck in Libya, many of them subjected to torture and inhuman and degrading treatment,[3] smugglers remain, paradoxically, the only alternative.

We are still far away from a world in which every human being is considered equal and where governments invest in development in a way that expands people’s choices. In the meantime, the United Nations and individual states need to embrace a more human conceptualization of security that takes into consideration the protection needs of asylum seekers, provides them with feasible alternatives and helps them to recover from human rights violations.

Francesca Vietti
Former Field Officer, Italian Red Cross

Francesca Vietti was formerly a Field Officer for the Italian Red Cross who worked under the framework of the Praesidium ProjectMs. Vietti co-authored with Todd Scribner an article titled “Human Insecurity: Understanding International Migration from a Human Security Perspective,” for the Journal on Migration and Human Security.


[1] BBC News Europe. 2014. “Migrants drown as Libya boat to Italy sinks.” May 12. Available at

[2] European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union. Available at

[3] Amnesty International. 2013. Libya: Scapegoats of fear: Rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants abused in Libya. Available at Jesuit Refugee Service. 2014. Beyond imagination: asylum-seekers testify to life in Libya. Available at