In the first week of January, more than 1,000 migrants had to be rescued in the Mediterranean Sea. Many were refugees from Syria.
They were traveling on two of what the International Organization for Migration calls “ghost ships.” Smugglers operated the ships from Turkey and charged the migrants several thousand dollars each to travel. Then, when the ships were close to the Italian coast, the crews disappeared -- leaving the ships and their passengers.
Some people were lucky – they survived. The first ship, carrying 736 people, reached Italy on New Year’s Eve. A European Union boat rescued the other, with 359 Syrian refugees. But both ships could easily have overturned and sent passengers into the sea.
Italian officials reported that more than 160,000 migrants were rescued at sea last year. That number is about three times higher than in 2013. Most migrants were Syrian or Eritrean.
In addition, the IOM said more than 3,000 migrants disappeared on the Mediterranean Sea in 2014. They are believed to have drowned. The IOM said the migrants were crossing from North Africa when their small, unsafe boats overturned or sank.
Joel Millman works for the IOM. He says migrations are continuing at high numbers through the winter in very dangerous conditions. The IOM is especially concerned because Italy has stopped a program that rescued migrants at sea. The European Union now has a smaller rescue program called Triton.
Mr. Millman says thousands of Syrians are fleeing their country every month. So, smugglers can plan on a steady flow of customers. The IOM estimates that they can earn as much as three million dollars for operating a ghost ship.
And, Mr. Millman notes that the demand for smugglers’ services in Turkey is likely to increase now that Lebanon requires visas from Syrians.
I’m Anne Ball.
Words in this Story
migrants – n. people who go from one place to another, often to find work
smugglers – n. people who secretly bring people or things from one country into another
survived – v. remaining alive during or after a dangerous situation
drowned – v. dying under water