Europe’s fear of Syria’s ‘ghost ships’

James Denselow writes: The story of the Ezadeen, the ship set on autopilot and set towards Europe with 450 fleeing Syrian refugees on board, could be a turning point in the European response to the crisis in Syria. With a conflict that has killed some 200,000 people burning brightly on its doorstep Europe’s prime focus to date has been on ensuring that it stays away from the flames. The emergence of “ghost ships”, the latest gruesome tactic to come out of a conflict that has also put the “barrel bomb” into the popular lexicon, may force a much needed revaluation on the strategy of Europe’s response.

The discovery of the Ezadeen is simply the latest in an increasing number of horror stories emerging from the Mediterranean Sea. The boat, aptly a former livestock carrier, was found in rough seas some 40 nautical miles off the Italian coast – the second vessel in four days to be found sailing abandoned by its crew.

The ghost ships represent both a new tactic – using large cargo ships to move people in winter across longer crossing – and a new trend – that of the refugees coming from Syria. Last year some 230,000 people arrived illegally across the Mediterranean into the EU with Italy receiving the lion’s share of 160,000 whilst 3,500 people died trying to make the crossing. The UNHCR explained that in 2014 for the first time, people mainly from Syria “have become a major component in this tragic flow, accounting for almost 50 per cent of the total”. [Continue reading…]

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