The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) urged the European Union on Monday to establish rescue operations to address the increasing number of migrants perishing in the attempt to traverse the Mediterranean Sea.
The request came after a boat attempting to reach European shores sank on Saturday night in the Strait of Sicily, where the 700 people on board apparently drowned, while some sources say that there may have been as many as 950 people on board.
“The world needs to react with the conviction with which it eliminated piracy off the coast of Somalia a few years ago,” William Lacy Swing, the IOM director general, said.
“All of us, especially the EU and the world’s powers can no longer sit on the sidelines watching while this tragedy unfolds in slow motion. Well over 1,500 have drowned since the beginning of January,” he added.
Swing recalled the success of Task Force 120, which successfully eliminated Somali piracy, “as an example for the EU to follow in both saving lives and preventing criminal smuggling gangs from operating”.
After yet another migrant boat sank last week, killing 400 people, the IOM asked the EU to once again “support life-saving operations on the scale of the Italian-run Mare Nostrum programme”, which shut down in December last year without being replaced.
The IOM warned on Friday that the death toll could reach 30,000 by the end of 2015 if the death rates from the first three months of the year persisted.
“We’re talking about a death toll this year that’s already 10 times what it was last year,” IOM spokesperson Joel Millman said.
“I think 3,179 deaths in the Mediterranean last year. If this trend were to continue we’d be talking about over 30,000 and that’s quite alarming,” he added.
These statements came roughly a day before the 700 migrants drowned while trying to reach Europe.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), roughly 290,000 migrants and asylum-seekers crossed the Mediterranean Sea in 2014, while more than 35,000 people have already attempted the voyage in 2015.