With the number of refugees and migrants confirmed missing following their attempt to cross the Mediterranean into Europe revised from a total of 29 dead to as many as 300, the United Nations refugee agency said today that it is shocked by the new information emerging on the scale of the maritime tragedy.
“This is a tragedy on an enormous scale and a stark reminder that more lives could be lost if those seeking safety are left at the mercy of the sea,” said Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR Europe Bureau Director.
UNHCR gathered reports from the Italian Coast Guard and survivors who arrived in Lampedusa, discovering that initial reports widely underestimated the number of people involved in the crossing attempt.
A single dinghy was originally found, by the Italian Coast Guard and a merchant vessel on Sunday. 29 people from that craft died, while 110 survived. The migrants, mainly from Sub-Saharan Africa, left the coast of Libya in four dinghies on Saturday, drifting without food or water.
Three of the four dinghies have now been recovered. On one, only two out of 107 passengers survived while on another seven out of 109 survived. The fourth dinghy was reported to UNHCR by survivors and is still missing. The youngest of the missing is a 12 year old boy.
UNHCR reiterates its concern about the lack of a strong search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean. Europe's Triton operation, which is run by the European border protection agency Frontex, is not focused on search and rescue and is not providing the necessary tools to cope with the scale of the crises.
“Saving lives should be our top priority. Europe cannot afford to do too little too late,” said Mr. Cochetel.
At least 218,000 people, including both migrants and refugees have crossed the Mediterranean in 2014 and this trend is expected to continue in 2015.