Drowned In Search Of Freedom

Andrew Sullivan —  Sep 17 2014 @ 10:57am

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Barbie Latza Nadeau tells the ugly story of how as many as 500 Middle Eastern migrants seeking refuge in Europe were deliberately shipwrecked off the coast of Malta by their traffickers last week:

Unlike most of the traffickers who eventually either abandon the ships or meld in with the migrants, these traffickers had devised a bucket brigade plan to pass their human cargo between a series of increasingly smaller vessels mid-journey, always taking the bigger boats back for more refugees, according to survivors. … The only problem with the plan to pass the passengers was that eventually the migrants refused. According to two Palestinian survivors who spent a day and a half in the water before being rescued, the boat they had been on for just a day was met by yet another smaller vessel “for the umpteenth time” about 300 miles off the coast of Malta and the migrants, who were by then extremely tired, hungry and sea wary, were ordered to once again jump onto the smaller ship to continue the journey.

According to reports from refugee aid groups in Sicily who spoke to the survivors, when the migrants refused to transfer yet again, the trafficker from the mother ship allegedly hopped onto the waiting ship, which then rammed the vessel full of migrants until it sank. The smugglers then sped off, leaving as many as a hundred people floating in the water. Only a dozen survived, including two children who were saved when a merchant ship called the Pegasus spotted them floating in the sea. They said that the rest eventually sank beneath the surface—some after bobbing in the water clinging to debris for several hours.

Zooming out, Dara Lind explains how dangerous that voyage is:

Crossing the Mediterranean is much deadlier than crossing from Mexico into the US. The National Foundation for American Policy found that the deadliest year on record for the US/Mexico crossing was 2012, when 477 migrants were killed. That’s about 1 of every 1000 migrants apprehended crossing the border illegally. In 2011, which was the deadliest year for the Mediterranean crossing before this year, 1,500 migrants were killed: 1 in every 50 migrants who crossed. And the IOM’s initial estimates for this year indicate that 2014 will be twice as lethal as 2011: they estimate that 3000 migrants have been killed so far making the voyage.

(Map from Pew.)