In miserable camps on the Libya coastline, tens of thousands of migrants, most of them from sub-Saharan Africa and the Horn of Africa, are said to be massed, waiting for the chance to cross to Italy while the weather is good and seas are calm.
A Nigerian migrant, in an interview, revealed the dangers prompting those taking the ultimate risk to flee. “I was held captive for six months in a basement of an abandoned building in Sabratha,” he told a reporter. “I saw many people executed, those who tried to escape were killed by the guards, who were all Libyans.”
And some of the worst places are the government-run detention centers for migrants.
Human Rights Watch has taken scores of testimonies that tell of whippings, electric shocks, beatings, strip-searches, “people being hung upside down from the trees”.
The International Organization for Migration estimates that more than 1,011,700 migrants arrived by sea in 2015, and almost 34,900 by land.
Many of the migrant women are pregnant or have babies – often the result of rapes by smugglers during the long internments.
Over the past week, hundreds were reported to have perished in boats that capsized with 40 children and many newborns aboard.
“We’ll never know the exact number, we’ll never know their identity, but survivors tell that over 500 human beings died,” Carlotta Sami, of the U.N. refugee agency (UNHRC), said on Twitter.
The Independent newspaper of London this week received an International News Media award for creating the hashtag #refugeeswelcome, which followed publication of the photo of Alan Kurdi, a 3-year old toddler whose body washed up on a Turkish beach.
“It was a graphic and tragic example of the many refugee deaths being roundly ignored by most European governments and many media outlets,” said deputy managing editor Will Gore. “It symbolized both the tragedy of the situation and the failure of authorities to get to grips with the reality of what was happening.
“As our report went viral, we set up a petition with Change.org . The response of our readers urging the government to act, and soon afterwards the Prime Minister’s announcement that Britain would take in more refugees, vindicated the decision.”
“Shock tactics ought to be used sparingly,” he cautioned. “And yet it remains deeply shocking that, month upon month, hundreds more people die in overcrowded ships as they attempt to escape war, persecution and poverty.
“It is horrifying that they take the risk; it is mortifying that Western nations appear paralyzed in their attempts to find a lasting solution. In that context, shouldn’t it be a shock that the refugee crisis isn’t on the front page of every paper and the homepage of every news website almost daily?”