WASHINGTON — The numbers are staggering.
More than 210,000 illegal migrants crossed the central and eastern Mediterranean in 2014, according to Frontex, the agency that coordinates border movements in Europe. More than 150,000 migrants were rescued at sea between October 2013 and September 2014, according to the Italian government, and more than 3,000 died. Another 2,200 migrants were rescued between Italy and Sicily on Feb. 12. More than 11,000 were rescued between April 12 and 18. On May 2 and 3 more than 5,800 were picked up.
These are just a few examples — there are many more. They reflect a growing crisis that European nations aren’t designed to handle, and ones they’re scrambling to respond to, at great cost and political consequence.
The greatest share of rescue operations cited above were handled by Italian government ships; Navy, Coast Guard, Border Patrol and Customs Service vessels. Using destroyers, frigates, corvettes, patrol craft and even submarines, Italy’s sea services have become the busiest and hardest-working such force in the world, bearing the brunt of the rescue and interdiction operations.
But the Italian government, fed up with the monthly €9 million (US $10.1 million) bill for rescue operations with little help from the rest of Europe, called a halt to the operations in mid-April. Just days later, on April 19, about 750 migrants drowned when their craft sank.
At an emergency summit meeting in Brussels on April 23, European Union (EU) leaders pledged to greatly expand support and committed to send more naval and coast guard units. They also tripled the budget for migrant patrols.