Hundreds more migrants feared drowned in the Mediterranean

The Wall Street Journal reports: As many as 700 migrants are believed to have died in a shipwreck about 70 miles from the Libyan coast, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

According to statements from survivors given to the UNHCR, a fishing boat carrying more than 700 people capsized during the night from Saturday and Sunday.

The 20-meter-long fishing boat, which was heavily overcrowded, launched a distress call during the night, the Italian Coast Guard said. The Italians sent a Portuguese mercantile vessel, the King Jacob, to help the boat, but when the migrants saw the ship approach, they rushed to one side, forcing the boat to capsize. Rescue teams saved 28 people and have recovered 24 bodies so far.

The Italian Coast Guard has dispatched 17 ships, including Maltese vessels, Italian fishing boats and other private vessels, to the area to search for other survivors.

Antonino Iraso, an officer with the Italian tax police, whose ships are involved in the search-and-rescue operation, told Italian television that the effort is now aimed at finding bodies, rather than other survivors. He said that the teams have sighted an oil slick, floating life jackets and fragments of wood in the area where the boat sank.

The route from Libya to the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa has become the deadliest migrant route in the world.

If the deaths are confirmed, it would bring to about 1,600 the number of migrants who have died since the start of the year in attempting to make the passage from Libya to Italy. For all of 2014, nearly 3,200 died attempting the passage, according to figures from the International Organization for Migration. According to the IOM, if the 700 deaths are confirmed, it would be one of the highest-ever migrant death tolls in a single incident.

Last year, about 170,000 African and Middle Eastern migrants arrived in Italy using that passage, with a total of nearly 300,000 arrivals in all since the start of 2011.

Yesterday, The Observer reported: Anti-immigrant rhetoric from politicians across Europe, including Britain, is blocking attempts to introduce large search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean that would save large numbers of migrant lives, a senior UN official has warned.

In comments that reveal the growing frustration within the UN Refugee Agency over Europe’s response to the growing migration crisis in the Mediterranean, Laurens Jolles said political expediency was preventing measures being taken to reduce migrant deaths.

Jolles, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative in Italy, said: “In many countries in Europe at the moment, the [political] dialogue and the rhetoric is quite extreme and very irresponsible.”

On Friday, Anders Lustgarten wrote: The EU’s de facto policy is to let migrants drown to stop others coming. Last year nearly four thousand bodies were recovered from the Med. Those are just the ones we found. The total number of arrivals in Italy in 2014 went up over 300% from the year before, to more than 170,000. And the EU’s response, driven by the cruellest British government in living memory, was to cut the main rescue operation, Mare Nostrum.

The inevitable result is that 500 people have already died this year. The figure for the equivalent period in 2014 was 15. There are half a million people in Libya waiting to make the crossing. How many more deaths can we stomach?

Migration illustrates one of the signal features of modern life, which is malice by proxy. Like drones and derivatives, migration policy allows the powerful to inflict horrors on the powerless without getting their hands dirty. James Brokenshire, the minister who defended cutting Mare Nostrum on the nauseatingly hypocritical grounds that it encouraged migration, never has to let the deaths his decision helped to cause spoil his expensive lunch with lobbyists. It doesn’t affect him.

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