VENICE, Italy — In 2022, the Italian Ministry of Interior noted that 5,976 migrants arrived in Italy after journeying through the Mediterranean Sea. In 2023, the number reached more than 17,000. The island of Lampedusa has become a point of arrival for migrants traveling by sea. Most of the migrants that arrive in Lampedusa come from Bangladesh, West Africa, Sudan and North Africa and are typically fleeing poverty, violence and instability in their homelands. Lampedusa is the closest island to Africa, located in the south of Italy, and is considered the entry point for migrants seeking a better future in Europe. But, crossing the Mediterranean Sea is deadly and dangerous and constitutes a risk to the migrants’ lives. EMERGENCY, a humanitarian organization, acknowledges the dire nature of the Mediterranean migration crisis and is working to safeguard the lives of migrants.
Root Causes of Migration
Poverty, violence and conflict as well as various forms of instability stand as the driving forces behind migration. For many migrants, leaving their home country with nothing but a bag on their backs is not a choice but a matter of survival.
West Africa, for instance, is experiencing ongoing instability and conflict that has led to the displacement of more than 2.5 million people in the Sahel region in 2022. The conflict is stifling economic growth in the region and poverty rates are rising. Affected by the impacts of the pandemic, by January 2022, 25 million West Africans faced difficulties securing their basic food needs, the U.N. reported.
In the eastern part of Africa, in Sudan, according to the World Bank, in 2022, 32.2% of people lived on less than $2.15 a day. Political and economic instability compounded by the impacts of the pandemic and extreme weather conditions have resulted in a struggling populace.
Deaths of Migrants in the Mediterranean
The Missing Migrants Project, an initiative of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), has noted since 2014 more than 20,000 mortalities and disappearances in the Mediterranean Sea, which is a significant route for irregular migration. In the Mediterranean Sea, fishermen are frequently finding the dead bodies of migrants and many more bodies are yet to be discovered. The Central Mediterranean route is the overseas crossing from North Africa to Italy and is considered the “deadliest migration route.” The number of missing persons recorded in the Central Mediterranean stood at 1,417 in 2022. Moreover, since the beginning of 2023, the number of missing migrants is 1,064, with a total of 1,011 drownings, the project reports.
The latest data for 2023, from the period of January to March, shows that 441 people died along the Central Mediterranean route, according to the IOM. Furthermore, the IOM believes that about half of these deaths arose due to a lack of or insufficiency on the part of rescue operations.
TIME magazine reports that smugglers take advantage of desperate people and charge them exorbitant amounts to take them via boat across the Mediterranean Sea. “But in most cases, the vessels are unseaworthy and overstuffed. The smugglers provide barely enough fuel to make it to international waters, and then abandon the boats, and their passengers, to their fate,” TIME says.
An Interview with EMERGENCY
The Borgen Project interviewed Francesca Bocchini from EMERGENCY, an Italian humanitarian organization founded in 1994 that “provides free, high-quality medical and surgical care to victims of war, landmines and poverty,” its website says. “The rescue of people in danger of life at sea is a duty for us, as much as the commitment for the victims of war,” Bocchini says. Via its ship named Life Support, EMERGENCY carries out regular search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean Sea.
Bocchini shared her insight into the Mediterranean migration crisis. She describes the conditions of migrants that leave their countries and arrive in Lampedusa after a long and harsh journey across the Mediterranean Sea. As for their health, she describes that people often suffer from skin infections, burns due to contact with gasoline and salt water, dehydration and malnutrition.
In addition, from a psychological point of view, migrants arriving at their destination suffer from post-traumatic stress and insomnia due to the shock and arduous nature of the journey. Bocchini recounts the organization’s most recent story of a 24-year-old girl who the organization rescued during the fifth Life Support mission. The girl explained that she already tried two times to leave Libya, but, in both cases, the Libyan Coast Guard intercepted and brought her back. In the country, she was detained for three years and endured torture and violence.
Most recently during its latest Life Support mission, EMERGENCY tried to rescue two boats leaving from Tobruk, Libya. The team managed to help one boat; however, the Coast Guard intercepted the second and all the migrants had to go back to Libya. Bocchini describes these interceptions as inhumane.
EMERGENCY’s Life Support
EMERGENCY, founded by Gino Strada and Teresa Sarti, is a humanitarian organization that follows the principles of equality, quality and social responsibilities. It is currently actively working in 20 countries and has helped more than 12.5 million people suffering from poverty, the consequences of war and the inability to escape from unsafe situations in their home countries. In its operations to provide Life Support to migrants crossing the Mediterranean, it saved 638 people over six missions (619 up to the fifth mission, then 35 people in the sixth mission).
EMERGENCY’s work begins when it sees a boat that is in danger. The team begins its expedition toward the boat and attempts to rescue the people inside. The people working in the Life Support vessel assign migrants a bracelet, make a visual evaluation of the ones who need immediate help and collect their data. However, if someone needs immediate medical support, the EMERGENCY team brings them straight to the clinics in charge of first aid. The help of EMERGENCY does not end here. EMERGENCY takes care of people’s basic needs by offering clothes, water, food and hygiene kits. Pietro Parrino, a field operations director at EMERGENCY states on the organization’s website that rescuing people is a way to contribute and help in one of the most dangerous borders for migrants, but most importantly, it is a moral obligation.
Successful Endeavors Amid the Mediterranean Migration Crisis
Bocchini recounts the success story of a migrant, Yohannes Ghebray, who now works for EMERGENCY and helps onboard the Life Support boat. He has a similar story to most migrants trying to leave harsh conditions in Africa. He was born in Eritrea in 1991 and, in 2007, he decided to leave his country facing a long journey, first passing through Sudan and Libya and then crossing the Mediterranean Sea on a small boat together with other migrants. He arrived in Italy in 2008 and he came into contact with EMERGENCY. He now helps to further the mission of EMERGENCY, assisting migrants arriving on the Sicilian coasts. At some point, he reunited with his brother who also arrived after an arduous journey at sea. In 2023, Ghebray received Italian citizenship.
The journey of migrants arriving in Italy is long and dangerous on board small and overcrowded boats. Fortunately, amid the Mediterranean migration crisis, there are organizations like EMERGENCY rescuing people and providing them with safety and resources to meet their basic needs.
– Elena Luisetto