21,312* is a figure that should get things moving. But nothing has moved.
The figure 21,312 is an underestimate of the number of fatalities on the central Mediterranean Sea since 2014, when Italy ended Mare Nostrum, the humanitarian sea rescue mission to save migrants. This makes the Mediterranean Sea the deadliest migration route in the world.
NGOs confronted with the inertia of the European Union decided to charter rescue vessels to assist the thousands who, every year, attempt the dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean, boarding unreliable boats in North Africa and Türkiye, hoping to reach Europe and request asylum.
At sea, there is the Ocean Viking, the rescue vessel of the NGO SOS Méditerranée, and the Geo Barents for Médecins sans Frontières, determined to train and work to provide assistance for vessels in distress with children, women and men on board fleeing their countries in the hope of finding a better life.
On land, European migration policies act as fortifications blocking the way to legal recourse. With support from Frontex, the European Border and Coastguard Agency backed by a budget of €750 million in 2022, “Fortress Europe” has been deploying a full range of military and legislative resources to stop people crossing borders, by land or sea. There are drones, planes, boats, administrative detention centers, and decrees declaring that NGOs are engaging in criminal activities. Europe has a steady supply of new ideas when it comes to combating illegal or “irregular” immigration.
The latest example comes from Italy with the far right government led by Giorgia Meloni, and legislation passed this year, in 2023, requiring humanitarian vessels, after each rescue, to go directly to a port to disembark passengers, and the ports set by the Italian authorities are further and further away from the search and rescue areas. The obligation is a major financial burden for the NGOs that now have to sail long distances on interminable return journeys between the ports and rescue areas. The purpose is quite obvious: to make them waste time and money, but in the meantime, the attempts to cross the sea never stop.
Right now, as you read this text, France has draft legislation on immigration ready for debate in Parliament. We can only hope that enlightenment in the land of human rights is not cast into the shadows.