• Press Release

Amnesty International: Saving Lives in the Mediterranean Must be European Governments’ Priority

April 20, 2015

European governments must prioritize setting up an immediate search and rescue plan to prevent the escalating death toll of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea, Amnesty International said ahead of a European Union (EU) foreign and interior ministers meeting in Luxembourg today.

“Refugees and migrants have been drowning off the coast of Libya at a rate of around 100 a week since the beginning of the year. This is a humanitarian crisis that needs an immediate and concerted European response, not more hand-wringing and denial,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Director.

Hundreds of people are feared drowned after their boat capsized off the coast of Libya this weekend. Up to 1,600 people are now believed to have drowned this year alone.

“EU and European leaders have repeatedly spoken of the need for a holistic approach to this crisis, working with countries of origin and transit, and clamping down on people smugglers. These are important, but the immediate priority must be the immediate safety of refugees and migrants who will continue to make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to Europe. Ministers must emerge from today’s meeting with a collective European search and rescue proposal.”

European governments’ongoing failure to address the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean has contributed to a more than 50-fold increase in migrant and refugee deaths since the beginning of 2015. Two recent high-profile tragedies, in which more than 1,000 migrants are feared drowned, have belatedly brought this crisis onto the agenda of European foreign and interior ministers today. The Mare Nostrum rescue mission, which saved the lives of thousands of migrants, ended last year. It has still not been adequately replaced. A new multi-country search and rescue operation could be put in place within days if there was the political will to do this. All indications point to a continued rise in the number of migrants and refugees making this trip as the weather improves, violence and persecution continue in countries like Syria and Eritrea, and instability persists in Libya.