We could blame the smugglers who overloaded the boat and then locked hundreds below decks. Surely they are guilty, extorting every possible dollar from desperate migrants and then setting them adrift. The smugglers themselves stay safely ashore. Their battered ships are a one-voyage investment, left to sink or be captured.
Or we could blame the war and terror that drives migrants to sea. The Guardian interviewed Mohammed Abdullah, who barely survived one such trip and was captured and brought back to a detention center in Libya.
“’I cannot go back to my country,’ says Abdallah, who is from Darfur, in Sudan. He left for what is now South Sudan in 2006, after he says his village was destroyed in the Darfur war, his father died, and his sisters raped. But in South Sudan, another war later broke out. So he made his way through the Sahara, a journey that he says killed his brother and cousin, to Libya. And there last year, he was witness to his third civil war in a decade – a war that still drags on, its frontline just a few miles from the camp at Zawya.”
From Syria, Sudan, from Ethiopia, from Somalia, from Libya, from Eritrea — the refugees come from the war-torn and terrorized communities across the continent. “If we go back, we die,” another tells The Guardian. Putting out to sea in leaky boats is safer than staying in their home countries.
We could blame the Italians, who last year suspended Mare Nostrum, the proactive rescue operation that had saved at least a hundred thousand lives. Back in October 2014, the Guardian reported that the Italians were scaling back from the large Mare Nostrum operation costing 9 million euros per month and focused on rescuing migrants at sea to the European Union-sponsored Triton operation costing less than a third of that amount and focusing on border control.
Or we could blame the European Union, which refused to support a large scale search and rescue operation. Pulling drowning people out of the ocean is bad policy, according to the EU. According to the Washington Post:
“Europe’s big players often ruled out help. ‘We do not support planned search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean,’ Britain’s Foreign Office minister Baroness Anelay said last year. ‘We believe that they create an unintended ‘pull factor,’ encouraging more migrants to attempt the dangerous sea crossing and thereby leading to more tragic and unnecessary deaths.'”
Finally, we know who to blame. The problem is the migrants themselves. The European Union will stop the drownings by allowing people to drown. That will teach the migrants that being blown up in Syria or kidnapped by Boko Haram or beheaded by ISIS is preferable to risking drowning in the Mediterranean.
Nothing crazy about that, Alice.
“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Update 4/21, 10 p.m. – Though many ships are sent out without smugglers aboard, leaving refugees to fend for themselves, or with a refugee serving as “captain” in return for the price of passage, authorities have arrested the “captain and first mate” of the ship that sank on April 19. More recent reports also have tragic updates on numbers: probably upward of 800 people died in this single incident. The total number of drownings for 2015 is likely to set a horrible new record — the May-September high season for ship crossings has not even begun.