Migrants’ tales: death in the Mediterranean

The boat sank quickly.

One minute Fahad Abdul Kariem was wedged into the hold, legs apart so that another migrant could sit in front of him.

The next, the Mediterranean swell was rolling the vessel, the motion aggravated by the scores of African and Indian migrants clinging to the roof canopy.

And everyone was in the water.

“I was under the boat when my hand caught a lifebuoy that I clung to as the last resort,” Kariem said of the shipwreck off Libya this summer.

“I saw bodies floating on the sea. Some were wearing lifejackets. One was a child. But I could not see where my friend Ayman was.”

In those desperate moments in late August, Ayman became another statistic, one of the more than 2,500 people who have died or are missing feared dead after trying to get into Europe across the Mediterranean this year.

It’s also a record year for arrivals – 160,000 in the first nine months of the year, already more than double the total for the previous record in 2011. More than 90,000 people have been fished out of the water by the Italian navy.

Why is 2014 proving such a terrible year?

The answer is a combination of factors: war, upheaval and economic rout on Europe’s periphery; the cynicism of smugglers who can charge as much as $10,000 (£6,200) to move a person from A to B, even if B is the bottom of the ocean; the breakdown of law and order in one of the principal conduits for migrants – Libya; the Italian rescue mission which paradoxically may be encouraging more people to risk every­thing in overladen fishing vessels ill-equipped for the job. Continue reading

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