Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

The Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) boat Phoenix rescues stranded migrants in 2014. (Photo: moas.eu)

Rescue of Thousands at Sea Highlights Dangers of 'Migration Season'

UN calls for greater search and rescue operations for refugees facing deadly choice: war at home or perilous overseas journey

Nadia Prupis

After a four-day Italian Coast Guard rescue operation pulled more than 8,000 North African migrants from the Mediterranean Sea, the United Nations on Tuesday called for greater resources to help save growing numbers of refugees trying to cross into Europe.

It is the beginning of "migration season," the time of year when refugees from countries like Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Eritrea are most likely to attempt the dangerous crossing to escape war-torn homelands—and often find themselves trapped at sea due to unsafe and chaotic conditions on smuggling ships.

While thousands were rescued over the weekend, hundreds more are still missing, and at least nine are confirmed to have drowned. One ship which left Monday carrying 500 people capsized within 24 hours; only 144 have been rescued.

"When the weather improves... we may have many more arrivals," Save the Children Italy spokesperson Michele Prosperi told the BBC on Tuesday.

According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 500 people have died since the start of the year, not including Tuesday's shipwreck. That figure is already 30 times more than that for the same period in 2014 and officially makes the Mediterranean the world's deadliest crossing.

But what's worse is that for many refugees, there is often no better option.

"The war changed everything," one survivor, Aali, told UNHCR. The 21-year-old Libyan recounted how he fled after his brother was killed and his food shop was torched by militants. "Was there really an alternative to this dangerous sea journey?"

The rising statistics show that not enough resources are being used to address the influx of migrants, and that without proper search and rescue operations at sea, many more will die on the journey, UNHCR said.

Italy's "Mare Nostre" program, which sent ships into international waters to intercept smuggling boats, ended last fall when it was deemed too costly. A more limited program focused on border security, rather than rescue, was instituted instead.

EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told the European Parliament on Monday, "The unprecedented influx of migrants at our borders, and in particular refugees, is unfortunately the new norm and we will need to adjust our responses accordingly."

As of now, the Coast Guard often has to ask private and commercial vessels for help transporting refugees—as it did during this week's rescue bid, recruiting seven ships bound for Libya to help the boats in distress and take survivors to Sicily.

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) announced Monday that it would partner with the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), a humanitarian operation set up by a family in 2013 in response to two migrant ships perishing at sea.

"Europe has turned its back on people fleeing some of the worst humanitarian crises of our time," said MSF general director Arjan Hehenkamp. "The decision to close doors and build fences means that men, women, and children are forced to risk their lives and take a desperate journey across the sea. Ignoring this situation will not make it go away. Europe has both the resources and the responsibility to prevent more deaths on its doorstep and must act in order to do so."

MOAS director Martin Xuereb added, "Our motivation is simple. No one deserves to die, and we will do everything in our power to ensure that those who feel compelled to undertake this treacherous sea crossing in makeshift vessels do not drown."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'Infuriating Disappointment': Biden DHS Ramping Up Deportations to Haiti

"It is unconscionable for the Biden administration to resume deportation flights to Haiti, despite the country's ongoing political, economic, and environmental disasters."

Jessica Corbett ·


Architect of Texas Abortion Ban Takes Aim at LGBTQ+ Rights While Urging Reversal of Roe

"Make no mistake, the goal is to force extreme, outdated, religious-driven values on all of us through the courts."

Jessica Corbett ·


Ahead of Canadian Election, Bernie Sanders and Rashida Tlaib Endorse NDP

"Bernie, you have fought courageously for public healthcare, affordable medication, making the rich pay their fair share, and tackling the climate crisis," said party leader Jagmeet Singh. "We're doing the same here."

Jessica Corbett ·


US Urged to End Drone Strikes After Pentagon Says Killing 10 Afghan Civilians Was 'Horrible Mistake'

"That was not a 'mistake,'" said journalist Anand Giridharadas. "War crimes are not oopsies."

Brett Wilkins ·


40+ NYC Activists Arrested for Protests Against Banks Fueling Climate Emergency

"We're sending a message loud and clear that the little action that politicians and greenwashing CEOs have taken so far does not begin to deal with the magnitude of this crisis."

Jessica Corbett ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo