ISTANBUL -- Just over a month after Italy announced it would end its maritime rescue operation for migrants crossing the Mediterranean, migrants are still dying at sea.
On Thursday, Italy’s navy rescued a small dinghy carrying 92 people, 16 of them already dead, off the coast of Libya and the Italian island of Lampedusa. One survivor also later died; the deaths reportedly were due to hypothermia. More than 3,000 migrants have died this year making the dangerous voyage across the Mediterranean Sea.
In late October, Italy announced it was ending its major search and rescue operation called Mare Nostrum, citing financial reasons over the operation's price tag of $11 million a month. There also have been concerns from Italy, as well as criticism from Britain and elsewhere, that search and rescue efforts only encourage migrants to make the trip.
The operation, which has been running for just over a year, was established in the wake of a tragedy last year that claimed the lives of 266 migrants when their boat caught fire and sank off Lampedusa.
As Mare Nostrum is phased out, making way for a drastically scaled-back EU-led operation set to fully take over at the start of the year, the migrants keep coming. In the last 10 days of November, just over 5,000 migrants arrived in Italy by sea, according to the International Organization for Migration.
IOM told The WorldPost that the 17 migrants who died this week included 15 men, one woman and one child. While they are the first reported deaths since Italy announced its plans to halt Mare Nostrum, there are concerns that many more will follow.
The migrants from Thursday's rescue were all reportedly from Sub-Saharan Africa. But many migrants who make the dangerous journey are Syrian or Palestinian. In October, there were more Syrians who arrived in Italy by boat than any other migrant group.
“People are still taking these dangerous sea routes to get to Europe,” John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s director for Europe and Central Asia, said today. “If the EU is serious about preventing the Mediterranean from becoming a cemetery, it must be prepared to deploy search and rescue operations all along the routes that desperate refugees and migrants are taking.”
Isabella Cooper, a spokesperson for the EU agency Frontex, which will soon replace Mare Nostrum, told the BBC in October that the new operation was exclusively aimed at border control, whereas Mare Nostrum was intended to help search for and rescue migrants in distress at sea.
"Our operation covers a very specific operational area and we only have a few vessels and a few aircraft,” Cooper said. "The Mediterranean Sea is over 2.5 million square kilometers -- it is virtually impossible to have a full overview of what is happening at sea.”