'Europe, This is Unbearable': Deadly Crossings Drive Migrant Fatalities to New Heights

Rescuers with the Italian navy captured footage of one migrant ship capsizing in the Mediterranean Sea. (Photo: Reuters)

'Europe, This is Unbearable': Deadly Crossings Drive Migrant Fatalities to New Heights

Record numbers of children are now making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea, aid groups say

Describing a heartbreaking and horrific scene of hundreds of bodies floating on the surface of the Mediterranean, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) confirmed Sunday that more than 700 asylum seekers drowned last week, capping off the deadliest period for those fleeing war and violence in over a year.

"The casualties happened in three separate incidents on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday after more than 13,000 people set sail from Libya for Italy in an eight-day period," the Guardian reported.

UNHCR spokeswoman Carlotta Sami said that with 700 dead, last week was the deadliest since April 2015, when roughly 1,300 refugees were killed in two fatal shipwrecks off the coast of Libya. Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) Sea, the Doctors without Borders' Mediterranean migration team, estimated that as many as 900 might have drowned.

Giorgia Linardi, a member of a rescue team from German NGO Sea Watch, described the "gruesome" scene that included the bodies of children and mostly young people being dragged in by nets.

"There were already many dead bodies floating in the sea. Some of them were between life and death because they weren't reacting, but still breathing," Linardi said. "Whether they made it, we don't know, because then we handed them to the Italian warship," which was helping pull people from the water after Friday's shipwreck.

The image of a drowned infant that went viral this weekend, for many, captured the heartbreak of the ongoing migration crisis.

"The disasters show that despite attempts to crackdown on smugglers in the southern Mediterranean, the flow of migrants between Libya and Italy continues unabated," the Guardian reports, noting that "roughly the same number of people--46,000--arrived in Italy in the first five months of 2016 as during the same period last year."

Meanwhile, the number of children who are making the deadly crossing is on the rise.

"The number of minors who make the journey on their own and arrive in Europe is much higher than what we saw last year," Save the Children spokeswoman Giovanna Di Benedetto said. "But we are increasingly coming across much younger children, children of nine or ten years of age, who have made the journey alone or who have lost their parents or family members with whom they were traveling."

On Wednesday, the Italian Coast guard announced that a staggering 5,600 migrants had been rescued from the waters off the Libyan coast in 48 hours alone, as Common Dreams reported.

The staggering casualties highlight the failure of European countries to organize a designated search-and-rescue operation, Linardi said.

Echoing that criticism, Aurelie Ponthieu, a humanitarian specialist on displacement with MSF, wrote online Sunday: "No lessons learnt, no #safepassage, only more lives lost at sea because of wrong and useless policies."

Meanwhile, MSF Sea has been sharing updates on the weekend crossings and deaths, writing, "Europe, this is unbearable."

At a prayer service on Saturday, Pope Francis mourned those lives lost and implored Western nations to remember that the migrants "are in danger, not dangerous."

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

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