Fortress Europe’s Mounting Death Toll

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Oct. 4 2013 5:25 PM

Fortress Europe’s Mounting Death Toll

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Members of the Italian Financial police work in the small harbor of Lampedusa on October 3, 2013 after a boat with up to 500 African asylum seekers caught fire and sank today off Italian shores in the worst recent refugee disaster in the Mediterranean.

Photo by ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images

Choppy seas have forced divers to postpone the search for survivors of the shipwreck off Sicily that is estimated to have killed at least 300 mainly Eritrean and Somali migrants attempting to reach Europe. More than 111 bodies have already been recovered near the island of Lampedusa.

The tragedy is another reminder of the scale of Europe’s immigration crisis, and the fact that the Mediterranean has fast become one of the world’s deadliest crossings for migrants. On Twitter yesterday, World Bank economist Branko Milanovic pointed out that the “Death rate at the Africa-EU passage is 10x higher than the US-Mexico dead rate” at around .5 percent.

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During 2011, the most turbulent year of the Arab Spring, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that 1,500 mirgants died in the Mediterranean. In May of this year, the European Parliament and Council agreed to created a new border surveillance system called Eurosur, which according to Human Rights Watch will “use technology, including satellite imagery and drones, to monitor the Mediterranean and North African coasts” with the goals of “preventing irregular migration, tackling cross-border crime, and protecting and saving lives.”

In any case, with a new surge of migrants likely arriving soon from Syria—the U.N. estimated on Sept. 13 than more than 3,300 Syrians had come ashore in Southern Italy in the past 40 days, including 230 unaccompanied children—the issue isn’t going away anytime soon.

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

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