Associated Press
Migrant survivors leave a rescue vessel upon arriving at the port of Tripoli, Libya.

Capsized Boat of Libyan Migrants Marks Deadly Start to Mediterranean Smuggling Season

April 02, 2009 11:30 AM
by Haley A. Lovett
Hundreds are feared dead after a Libyan boat capsized this weekend. The vessel was being used to smuggle immigrants into Europe; Italian authorities want Libya to help stop illegal immigration.

A Deadly Start for Smuggling Season to Italy

Of the four boats that attempted to take migrants from Libya to Italy this weekend, two were in need of rescue. One, carrying nearly 350 passengers, was taken safely back to shore, the other, carrying between 250 and 365 passengers, capsized; only 21 survivors have been found.

The capsized boat started its journey toward Italy grossly overcrowded, carrying at least four times its set capacity. Three hours into its journey the ship capsized, killing the captain and most of the passengers.

Najy Abou Harous, a Libyan police spokesman, told The Associated Press, “The boat capacity is 40 to 50 and the smugglers packed it with hundreds. These are wooden fishing boats, not for sailing.”

But it seems that many migrants are willing to risk the rough waters in order to try to find a better life. U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told CNN that smuggling via water routes is also happening in the Canary Islands, in Thailand and in Greece.

According to The Associated Press, the ships were traveling on a route often used by smugglers to take illegal immigrants from Africa to Italy. It is thought that there are more than 1 million migrants from different African countries currently in Libya, some waiting for passage via the Mediterranean to Europe. Last year, about 30,000 African migrants made the trip from Libya to Italy.

Libya itself is sometimes a destination for migrants. CNN points out that “[i]ts relatively successful economy is a magnet for people from impoverished regions.” 

Italy has been working with Libya to reduce the number of illegal immigrants crossing its borders each year. Recently an agreement was reached between the two countries to increase patrols near the Libyan coast to deter the boats that smuggle migrants from Libya to Italy. These increased patrols are set to start in mid May.

Related Issues: Italy’s attitude toward immigrants

Italy receives tens of thousands of immigrants a year—about 75 percent of the immigrants from North Africa seek asylum. According to CNN, it is most common for immigrants to travel from Libya to the Italian island of Lampedusa, where they can seek and sometimes receive asylum or government protection. Some are deported and some are sent to mainland Italy and then released.

But for those immigrants who are allowed to stay in Italy, life is not always easy. Italy has seen an increase in anti-immigrant violence in the past few years. One recent event involved the beating of an unemployed Indian laborer in Rome.

Critics of the current Italian administration say that the increase in violence is provoked by the government’s attitude toward immigrants. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was reelected this term with strong support from anti-immigration groups. In August of last year, Italian troops were deployed in cities with large immigrant populations. The government also detained more than 400 immigrants in a move said to try to reduce crime.

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines