World

Abandoned at Sea: Refugees From Africa and Middle East

Europe keeps its rescue ships far from the coast of Libya – where thousands of refugees have drowned.

Migrants in a dinghy await rescue by the Migrant Offshore Aid Station, around 20 nautical miles off the coast of Libya, June 23, 2016. Credit: Reuters

Migrants in a dinghy await rescue by the Migrant Offshore Aid Station, around 20 nautical miles off the coast of Libya, June 23, 2016. Credit: Reuters

The rescuers prepare for the calm days, more than the stormy ones.

On land in small towns near the Libyan coast, refugees from Africa and the Middle East are crowded into safe houses, waiting for good weather. When the sea quiets, the refugees pack onto rubber dinghies or large wooden fishing vessels and set off in the early morning toward Europe.

An average of 3,500 people have died each year while trying to make the journey to Italy from North Africa since 2014. Their vessels are overcrowded, unseaworthy, and have a near-nothing chance of making it to Europe. Most of the boats sink just 20 to 40 miles from the Libyan coast.

These are preventable deaths. Since 2014, the European Union has deliberately chosen to keep their coast guard patrol boats far from where the shipwrecks happen, a decision detailed in an internal letter obtained by The Intercept and other leaked documents. Saving more lives, the logic goes, will only encourage more refugees to come. The result is that rescue boats are kept away from where rescues are actually needed.

Read more at The Intercept