The Escalating Migrant Crisis In Europe Just Got Worse
One day after dozens of bodies were found in a discarded truck near Vienna, a boat carrying migrant workers sunk off the Libyan coast, killing up to 200 people. At least 400 passengers were on the Italy-bound boat when it capsized, Reuters reported. These two recent tragedies have escalated Europe's immigration crisis from the coast of Sicily to the Austria-Hungary border, where migrants traveling primarily from Africa and the Middle East are facing unsafe and troubling conditions.
Officials confirmed to Reuters Friday that Libya's coast guard rescued 201 people from the water off the coast of Zuwara in northwestern Libya. Nearly 150 of those rescued were taken to a detention center near Tripoli, the nation's capital.
BBC News reported that the boat carrying 400 migrant workers was just one of two vessels to capsize off the coast of Libya on Thursday. A smaller boat carrying 100 people sank earlier that day, according to BBC News. That boat also departed from Zuwara. These two maritime tragedies come just days after a vessel with more than 4,400 migrant workers became stranded in the waters off the Libyan coast. In one of the largest migrant-rescue operations ever taken, the coast guard was able to successfully return the thousands of passengers to shore. On Wednesday, another boat sunk off the Libyan coast, killing at least 51 people, according to the United Nation's Refugee Agency. The coast guard reportedly found the bodies trapped in the ship's hold.
The incidence of shipwrecks off the Libyan coast, which is a well-traveled route for migrant workers fleeing their war-torn countries for Europe, has been so great in recent months that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees set up a new forum in August to help connect Libyan officials with search-and-rescue operations, medical facilities and detention centers. "We hope the new contact group will boost Libya's ability to save lives at sea, collect bodies at sea or along the coast and improve the humanitarian care of the rescued on disembarkation," UNHCR spokesperson Leo Dobbs said at a news conference earlier this month.
The number of migrants who've crossed the Mediterranean Sea so far in 2015 is staggering, and it's only continuing to rise as economic instability and military strife swells in the Middle East and North Africa. The UNHCR said on Friday that more than 300,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean, usually in hazardous vessels and high-risk conditions, this year, already exceeding 2014's record-breaking 219,000.
The UNHCR added on Friday that 2,500 migrants have either died or gone missing while attempting to escape to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea. This figure does not include the estimated 200 people who died in the latest capsizing off the Libyan coast.
While most migrants crossing into Europe from the south land on the shores of Italy or Greece, Europe's immigration crisis has spread inland to Austria and Hungary, where a deserted truck became a tomb for dozens of refugees. According to Austrian police, 71 bodies were found decomposing in the truck, left on the side of the A4 highway outside Vienna. While most of the 71 refugees were men, there were also eight women and three children found in the truck. Authorities believe most of the refugees were from Syria.
The horrifying discovery triggered an emotional response from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who called on the European Union to respond to the unfolding crisis with dignity and compassion. "The world’s eyes are upon us," Merkel said Thursday at the EU-Balkans summit in Vienna, which quickly turned into a conversation about the influx of Syrian refugees. "This is a warning to work to resolve this problem and show solidarity."