The migrant crisis was a long time coming. Civil wars and economic hardship in parts of northern Africa, the Middle East and Southern Asia have driven millions of migrants to seek a better life in Europe over the past 10 years. At its peak in 2015, the International Organization for Migration estimates that more than 1,011,700 migrants arrived in Europe by sea alone, with another 34,900 by land (an estimated total of 1,046,600 migrants). Although this number dropped off significantly through to 2019, (estimated total of 124,000 migrants arrivals in Europe), there remains an unacceptable amount of deaths in the Mediterranean Sea each year.
In attempts to limit this, and as a result of perceived inaction by the governments of Mediterranean coastal countries, various NGOs have taken matters into their own hands, searching the sea waters for migrants who have come into trouble on their journey.
On 18 August 2020 the “Louise Michel”, a vessel financed by the UK’s most secretive street artist (Banksy – shh), set sail from Valencia to assist with the efforts. Little over a week later the crew of the Louise Michel rescued 89 people from the waters. The migrants were later transferred to a larger boat, the Sea Watch 4 (operated by the NGO of the same name), which was initially refused permission to dock and disembark in both Italy and Malta. Although the Italian government eventually agreed to let the ship to dock in Sicily, this permission was not granted until 2 September – nearly two weeks after the initial request.
In the meantime, the ship’s crew were reportedly treating the migrants for various degrees of hypothermia, dehydration, and traumatic injuries. The reality during the COVID-19 pandemic is that migrants who are fortunate enough to be rescued, may end up living in cramped refugee camps with poor facilities and a heightened risk of infection.
The numbers may well be lower, the crisis is still very much alive.
On Saturday, the UN's refugee agency issued an urgent appeal for those onboard the rescue vessels to be allowed to disembark safely.