What's driving the 2015 migrant crisis

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The migrants are packed like sardines into old fishing boats, or forced to sit shoulder-to-shoulder in inflatable rafts, dinghies and overcrowded ships.

What's driving the 2015 migrant crisis

Hailing from countries roiled by violence in parts of Africa and the Middle East, the men, women and children have paid human traffickers thousands of Euros for safe passage to Europe, just 1,000 miles across the sea, that brings hope of a better life.

Many, however, never make it. The risky journey all too often ends in capsized vessels and shipwrecks that plunge the migrants into the open sea, where they are left to drown, or wait for help that rarely comes in time.

On Saturday, an estimated 700 people died in in a shipwreck that may be the highest of any recorded migrant disaster in the region to date. The week prior, 400 migrants are believed to have drowned after their boat capsized off the coast of Libya.

In total, more than 1,600 people have died in the Mediterranean since the beginning of 2015, signaling a major migrant crisis, prompting calls among European countries to do something to stop it.

The number of migrants is rising
There is no doubt that spring has brought with it a swift uptick in the amount of people who choose to make the treacherous crossing.

Calm weather, combined with growing insecurity throughout Syria, Libya, and Sub-Saharan Africa, have driven an increase in people willing to make the perilous journey.

It's hard to pin down the exact number of migrants making the crossing this year, but Frontex, the European Union's external borders agency, says that 10,237 people crossed the border into Europe by way of the central Mediterranean between January and March of 2015. An estimated 13,342 entered through the eastern Mediterranean in the same time frame.The true numbers are likely much higher — as Frontex includes only border crossings — and may be reflected in those provided by the UN's refugee agency.

The UNHCR estimates that more than 36,000 refugees and migrants arrived by boat in southern Europe, while more than 1,600 died en route, in the first four months of 2015 alone.

Last year’s numbers were staggering — in all of 2014, around 219,000 people crossed the Mediterranean and 3,500 lives were lost.

Many of migrants crossing the central Mediterranean leave from Libya, a war-torn country where experts say borders are virtually unmonitored allowed smuggling to thrive. Syrians and Eritreans made up the majority of Mediterranean migrants in 2014, but Sub-Saharan Africans also represented a large portion of those crossing, according to Frontex.

A general lack of search and rescue
European officials have yet to launch a comprehensive program that deals with the consistent influx of people.

The Italians had the Mare Nostrum Operation — which was created after the deadly 2013 Lampedusa migrant shipwrecks — but it was ended earlier this year due to a lack of resources.

"Here we are a year and a half later [after the Lampedusa incidents] and hundreds of people are still dying at sea," Iverna McGowan, acting director of Amnesty International's European Institution told. "The clear need, and the only solution for putting an end to the deaths, is a humanitarian operation in the high seas of the Mediterranean," she said.

"We need to look at something of the same size and scale of Mare Nostrum if we are going to be serious about putting an end to the crisis."

Frontex's joint program, named Triton, has since taken over operations, but it functions up to 30 miles off of the European coast and emphasizes policing the border, making it much more limited in scope than its predecessor.

earch and rescue operations have relied on aid organizations that work in the region, as well as other ad hoc measures to save those who find themselves in distress at sea.

The nearest vessel to any emergency must try to come to the rescue according to international laws on the "duty to render assistance," which means the life saving often comes down to civilian ships or coast guards.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the Mediterranean rescue organization Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) launched a joint operation in the central Mediterranean between Africa and Europe earlier in April, but they have just one ship.

Human rights organizations have appealed to EU authorities to establish a comprehensive response to the influx of migrants that shares responsibility rather than leaving Italy and other countries on the front line to fend for themselves, or simply relying on aid organizations to patrol the waters.

President of the International Committee of the Red Cross Peter Maurer echoed the appeal to EU member states to take action.

"The key players who must step up to their responsibilities are States -– in this case European states. We understand that EU member states have other preoccupations, but right now they have to give priority to humanitarian concerns," said Maurer in a statement released on Monday, just as word as another shipwreck had reached the Italians.

Addressing the cause of the Mediterranean migration
On Monday, the European Commission — an executive body that represents the interests of the European Union as a whole — announced a 10-point action plan that it says will address the crisis.

That plan would include increasing resources for the Triton program and extend its operational area.

The points include putting systems into place meant to capture and destroy vessels used by smugglers, deploy teams in Italy and Greece for joint processing of asylum applications, create an EU-wide voluntary pilot project on resettlement and offering a number of places to persons in need of protection.

But human rights groups fear that simply increasing a border patrol would miss the larger issue that is at stake — the need for a comprehensive search and rescue operation, as well as humanitarian aid.

The most recent shipwreck "confirms how urgent it is to restore a robust rescue-at-sea operation and establish credible legal avenues to reach Europe," United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said in a message released in Geneva on Sunday. "Otherwise people seeking safety will continue to perish at sea."

By limiting access to proper asylum channels, the EU is effectively forcing people who flee instability in the Middle East and Africa to face the risky sea crossing, because the land borders in Europe have been effectively sealed off, says Amnesty's McGowan.

She believes the fact that migrants still flood across the Mediterranean despite over 1,000 people dying this week alone speaks to the severity of the conditions they face at home.

"It speaks a lot to the push factors, the horror the persecution that they are fleeing from," she said. "And of course we have to have security concerns. But that can't be an excuse to shut down the borders to such an extent that people die on their way trying to get here."

Fuente: mashable.com
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