The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has estimated that over 20,000 migrants from the Middle East and Northern Africa have come over by boat into Italy.
On March 19th alone there was a report that 3,000 something immigrants were picked up off the coast of Libya, escaping towards Europe.
“We have yet to complete March, and we are already racing at a pace of arrivals that has exceeded anything we’ve seen before in the Mediterranean,” IOM spokesman Joel Millman told Reuters. “This is typical of spring, getting very busy, but it’s not typical to have the numbers be so high this early and the corresponding deaths that go with it.”
Millman estimated that drowning deaths for the period have increased to around 500, up from 159 last year.
The European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) has previously confessed that its own activities, as well as the activities of vessels operated by pro-migration NGOs, seem to be responsible for this rising death toll.
“Dangerous crossings on unseaworthy and overloaded vessels were organised with the main purpose of being detected by EUNAVFOR Med/Frontex and NGO vessels,” the agency reported in its most recent risk analysis.
“Apparently, all parties involved in SAR operations in the Central Mediterranean unintentionally help criminals achieve their objectives at minimum cost, strengthen their business model by increasing the chances of success.”
Total crossings, it should be noted, are down, due to a €6 billion deal with Turkey having persuaded its Islamist government to reduce the number of migrants travelling to Greece via the so-called Aegean route.
These have been rising rapidly in recent days, however, as relations between Turkey and the European Union deteriorate. Turkish interior minister Süleyman Soylu has even threatened to begin sending 15,000 migrants to Europe a month to “blow [its] mind”.
The European approach to the migrant crisis differs sharply from the Australian approach, which sees boats intercepted at sea and either turned back to their country of origin or escorted to offshore processing centres in third countries.
This has acted as a strong disincentive for illegal migrants, and it has now been well over 900 days since the last boat reached Australia.
Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who introduced the policy, has urged EU leaders to follow his country’s lead.
“Effective border protection is not for the squeamish, but it is absolutely necessary to save lives and to preserve nations,” he said. “The truly compassionate thing to do is: stop the boats and stop the deaths.”