Cynical Europe, ‘ghost ships’ and the largest refugee crisis since WWII

This report by Deutsche Welle illustrates the situation in Italy in recent months as it faces an influx of refugees fleeing from conflict in the Middle East:

“We are alone, there is no one, help us!”

These were the words used by a Syrian woman in a distress call to the Italian coastguard on January 2, 2015. She, along with 358 other, mostly Syrian, migrants were then rescued by Italian authorities from the 50-year-old Sierra-Leone-registered livestock freight ship Ezadeen, which had been sailing on autopilot without a captain or crew. Among the passengers were pregnant women and eight unaccompanied children. They told authorities that they had boarded the ship in Turkey, where they arrived on a flight from neighboring Lebanon and that the captain and crew had worn hoods to avoid being identified before – presumably – jumping ship.

The Ezadeen was the second dated cargo ship without a captain to be intercepted within a week. The Italian navy rescued Blue Sky M on December 30 after a distress call had been sent out requesting help. That ship had been carrying 768 mostly Syrian refugees and waving a Moldovan flag. The refugees were brought to Gallipoli, in Italy’s southeastern Puglia region.


The shady, illegal business of people smuggling is booming off the back of conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Eritrea, among others, which have led to a dramatic increase in the number of refugees. A record number of 348,000 people attempted perilous sea crossings in 2014, according to figures released by the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, in mid-December. The majority of those migrants travelled to Europe, with more than 207,000 fleeing across the Mediterranean since the start of last January. (This is about three times the previous high of about 70,000 people attempting this journey during the Libyan civil war in 2011.) And of those people coming to Europe, Italy alone rescued 150,000 of them from sea in 2014.

“The refugee drama is a tragedy. And what you read in the news is only the tip of the eisberg. We estimate internally that between 400 and 500 refugees are rescued by cargo ships every day,” Günther explained, adding that this had been going on for the past eight to ten months. “We have seen pictures from other shipping companies from when these boats capsize and all of a sudden you have 300 people in the water.

“And don’t think for a minute that all of them can be saved.”

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