The Deadly Consequences of Europe’s Ruthless Asylum Policies: A Deep Dive into the Mediterranean Crisis

The latest horrific Mediterranean shipwreck lays bare the lethal consequences of Europe’s increasingly stringent asylum policies. Close to 600 lives, 81 confirmed and an estimated 500 feared drowned, were extinguished as a ship overcrowded with desperate migrants from Tobruk in eastern Libya sank off the Greek coast.

This tragic incident has captured headlines across European media. Sadly, the US media’s coverage has been markedly sparse, a stark reminder of how the struggles, hopes, and fates of migrants are often overlooked or minimized, rendering them virtually invisible.

A hundred men were saved by the Greek coast guard as the vessel sank swiftly in the Ionian Sea. But heart-wrenching reports suggest that the remaining 500 passengers, mainly women, and children, were cruelly locked below decks and didn’t escape as the vessel began to sink. If confirmed, this tragedy would be among the deadliest in the Mediterranean in the last decade.

The overcrowded ship’s plight was ignored initially, with Greek authorities recounting a dubious narrative that they’d tried to offer assistance, but the migrants wished to proceed to Italy. As new photos, videos, and survivor testimonies emerged, contradicting the official narrative, it became evident that the coast guard had attempted to stop the ship, leading to it listing and subsequently sinking. Yet, despite mounting evidence, the Greek government continues to deny these allegations.

This incident has struck a nerve in Europe, a region where thousands of migrants have drowned while seeking safety and improved economic conditions. Since the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015, which sparked an exodus toward Europe and robust smuggling networks, the Mediterranean death toll has fluctuated from over 5,000 in 2016 to roughly 1,500 in 2020, during the pandemic. Last year’s known deaths exceeded 2,400, and this year, partly due to this recent disaster, that figure is expected to rise.

Harsh criticisms have been launched against countries like Italy, under far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, for failing to rescue distressed migrant ships. As Europe tightens its stance against asylum seekers—Italy refusing to allow migrant rescue ships to dock, France backing out on an agreement to accept 3,500 asylum seekers from Italy, and the U.K. deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda—the journey across the Mediterranean becomes even deadlier than the desert bordering the U.S.-Mexico border.

Like the U.S. with its “Remain in Mexico” policies, Europe to is increasingly shifting its asylum “problem” onto neighboring or poorer countries. This response is alarming for those seeking refuge, even as widespread protests against these brutal policies continue.

The acceptance of large numbers of Ukrainian refugees since early 2022 starkly contrasts with the treatment of refugees from other global hotspots. Smuggling routes have become increasingly dangerous, and conditions upon arrival in Europe or the U.S. are often deplorable.

The Mediterranean, one of the most trafficked routes for people fleeing wars, economic hardships, and environmental disasters, attracts both the desperate and those ready to exploit their despair. Smugglers reportedly charge up to $6,000 per person on overcrowded boats like the ill-fated one off the Greek coast. They often abandon their clients when faced with adverse weather, coast guard, or military interventions, much like the “coyotes” guiding migrants into the U.S.

However, it’s vital to look beyond the brutality of the smugglers. The root of the crisis lies in the systemic inequalities leading to smuggling and the tacit approval by governments of extralegal means to address asylum seekers.

Greek authorities faced backlash from activists after coast guard officials were filmed abandoning asylum seekers at sea in an inflatable raft. The new conservative government in Greece is fortifying camps holding asylum seekers and enhancing border patrols, symbolizing a hardening stance towards asylum seekers, treating them as criminals rather than individuals in need.

As more people seek respite from wars, poverty, state failure, and climate change, the Global North continues to resist, pushing marginalized populations towards increasingly dangerous smuggling routes. The human toll of these policies is immeasurable—the countless adults and children who perish are deemed as “collateral damage” in this brutal global game. It’s a tragedy that deserves our attention, compassion, and action, not just fleeting news coverage before the next news cycle takes over.