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A journalist friend in Athens updated me on the death toll throughout the day: 2 bodies, 14 bodies, 22 bodies. A boat and a dinghy carrying migrants and asylum seekers capsized early yesterday morning near the Greek island of Samos. Four children are among the dead.
More and more people attempt the maritime journey across the Aegean Sea to reach Europe as entering via land has become more difficult. The Greek government, with European Union help, virtually sealed its land border with Turkey. Greece has constructed a 12.5 kilometer fence and has increased patrols, including by Frontex, the EU border agency. The Bulgarian government has followed suit with increased border controls and another fence.
The 36 people rescued from this latest tragedy are from Somalia, Syria, and Eritrea – all countries torn apart by conflict, repression, and violence. At this writing the nationalities of the dead are unknown.
The horrifying shipwreck in early October 2013 off the coast of Lampedusa, Italy, which cost the lives of 366 people, reminded Europe and the world of the desperate measures people take to seek refuge and better lives for themselves and their children. To its credit, Italy has since then rescued roughly 30,000 people in the Mediterranean. Greece, which has an abysmal reputation for its treatment of migrants and asylum seekers, including dangerous maneuvers to disable and force boats back from Turkey, rescued around 250 people at sea this past weekend. And after much foot dragging by different member states, new regulations to clarify the search and rescue duties of Frontex should enter into force soon.
But clearly much more has to be done to limit deaths in the Mediterranean. Crossings began earlier than usual this year, and the summer months always see a significant increase. Hoping to simply put an end to departures is not the answer: it’s both unrealistic and dangerous, as it would prevent people from seeking the protection they need or strand them in other countries that have neither the will, nor the capacity, to protect or sustain them. The EU should provide greater support for national efforts like Italy’s, and get serious about creating better legal, orderly, and safe channels for entry into the EU.