On the morning of Sunday, February 26th, a wooden boat carrying 130 to 180 migrants, struck rocks off the coast of Italy, fell apart, and led to the deaths of at least 60 people. According to Italy’s financial police, the Guardia di Finanza, the boat left Izmir, Turkey carrying migrants from Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan.
According to multiple reports and Italian authorities, 80 people were saved from the wreck while several others had not been found. Italian authorities claim the number of people who died from the disaster was likely to rise, with some reports claiming it could reach 100. Footage and pictures have shown the survivors of the tragedy sitting on the beach and covered in blankets. A priest present at the beach where the survivors were, blessed the bodies of the deceased who were covered in white sheets. According to reports, children, including a newborn baby, died in the disaster.
Italy’s Anti-Migrant Stance
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni lamented the tragedy, sharing “her deep sorrow for the many lives torn away by human traffickers.” Since Meloni assumed office as Prime Minister, her anti-migrant government has taken steps to prevent the arrival of migrants in Italy. This includes providing financial support to the Northern African countries where most migrants arriving in Italy travel from. The financial support provided is meant to be used to bolster and improve policing and prevention methods to stop migrants. “The government is committed to preventing the departures and the resulting tragedies and will continue to do so, above all by demanding maximum cooperation of the countries of departure and origin,” Ms. Meloni’s office said in the aftermath of Sunday’s shipwreck.
NGOs Making an Effort
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in Italy have recognized the dangers that migrants face when traveling across the sea trying to get to Italy. They operated boats in the waters close to areas where boats carrying migrants are known to land. The NGOs operate in those areas knowingly with the knowledge that wrecks are likely to occur in those areas due to the terrain. However, Meloni’s government has placed restrictions that interfere with the work of the NGOs. Boats operated by NGOs are forced to dock further up Italy’s coast, making it expensive and more difficult to operate in the open sea, searching for migrants that need help. Recently, a boat operated by Doctors Without Borders was detained by Italian authorities, with the organization fined the equivalent of $10,547. NGOs have told the Italian government that vilifying migrants and creating blockades to prevent them from heading to the European country will not work.
“The discretional targeting of NGOs is not going to solve the much more complex and wide issue of migration flows,” said Juan Matias Gil of Doctors Without Borders’ Mediterranean operations. “But preventing us from being in the sea is going to continue contributing to more deaths.”
Dangers of the Mediterranean
The Mediterranean is one of the deadliest sea crossings for migrants. Last year, according to the International Organization for Migration, 1,417 lost their lives at sea. In February this year, 158 people died while making the crossing, a figure worse than the 132 deaths recorded in the same period in 2022. European countries and authorities have been called on to do more to assist migrants traveling through these hazardous conditions seeking a better life. “This is not an emergency in numbers,” the organization wrote on Twitter. “It is humanitarian.”