From the more than one million refugees and migrants who entered the bloc in 2015, sea arrivals plummeted to 141,500 in 2018, according to the UN. But the crisis is far from over. “If we do not intervene soon, there will be a sea of blood,” Carlotta Sami, spokeswoman for the UN’s Refugee Agency, said, according to the Guardian. “We are witnessing a sharp increase in departures. Obviously, migrants have no say in how or when to leave. The traffickers make that decision for them.
“They couldn’t care less if the people arrive dead or alive,” she continued, adding that migrant boats departing from the north African coast are “overflowing with people”.
Scores of EU-bound migrants are reportedly gearing up to leave Libya by boat as the war-hit country suffers devastating floods. But the lack of humanitarian ships patrolling the Mediterranean will put their lives at risk, Mrs Sami said.
Out of the 10 rescue vessels that were active across the Mediterranean in recent years, only one – run by the German charity SeaWatch – remains.
Roughly 350 people have died making the perilous sea crossing from north Africa to the EU so far this year, according to UN data.
Anti-immigration policies introduced by the Maltese and Italian governments have driven the sharp decrease in rescue missions.
Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has taken a notably tough stance against humanitarian rescue operations, accusing them of colluding with migrant smugglers in Libya who pack migrants into flimsy boats.
Mr Salvini’s position has created numerous standoffs with fellow European Union nations and humanitarian groups. But the populist government in Rome has tightened its immigration rules and barred rescue ships from entering Italian ports, despite the criticism.
From the more than one million refugees and migrants who made it to the bloc at the height of the crisis in 2015, sea arrivals dropped to 141,500 people last year, according to the UN.
But while the number of migrants reaching EU shores is falling, the bloc remains deeply divided over how to handle migration and refugees.
A group of international lawyers said last week that EU states should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity over the migrant sea deaths.
The Paris-based lawyers handed the International Criminal Court (ICI) a 245-page file which they said provided “enough evidence implicating the EU and member state officials and agents with crimes against humanity committed in pursuant to EU migration policies in the Mediterranean and Libya” since 2014.
More than 12,000 people have drowned at sea in the Mediterranean since the beginning of the EU migrant crisis in 2014.
The lawyers also slammed the bloc’s “deterrence-based migration policy, intended to sacrifice the lives of migrants in distress at sea”.
“Instead of immediately rescuing and bringing … the civilian population in distress at sea to safety, the EU has facilitated the death of thousands by drowning, before introducing a comprehensive system of forced deportations to concentration camp-like detention facilities,” lawyer Juan Branco told AFP.
In their report, the lawyers singled out the likes of France, Germany and Italy, which are all ICC states and all back a hardening of the EU’s immigration and asylum rules.