For every six migrants who survived the sea journey from Libya to Italy last month, at least one died. The International Organization for Migration’s Missing Migrants project recorded 564 deaths in the central Mediterranean during June, noting that the figures were “minimum estimates.” This is the highest total since November 2016, and represents three-quarters of the migrant deaths recorded worldwide last month.
What’s to blame for the rising death toll? Three explanations are commonly given: the obstruction and criminalisation of private search-and-rescue missions, the absence of a concerted European effort to rescue migrants at sea, and the policies of the new government in Rome. Italy has closed its ports not only to search-and-rescue ships operated by non-government organisations but also — albeit only temporarily — to commercial vessels that pick up migrants, and navy ships engaged in the European Union’s Operation Sophia, whose ships have patrolled the Mediterranean since 2015, mainly to combat people smuggling. Earlier this month, Italy’s new far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini even threatened to prevent the Diciotti, an Italian coastguard vessel, from disembarking sixty-seven migrants at a Sicilian port.
The central Mediterranean route has arguably become more perilous since Salvini, the hard-line federal secretary of the Lega Nord, was sworn in as deputy prime minister and interior minister on 1 June. Lega Nord campaigned strongly on an anti-immigration and anti-migrant platform during the election, and the openly xenophobic Salvini is determined to fulfil its campaign promises. Within days of his appointment, he announced the closure of Italy’s ports, arguing that Italy had long enough carried the can for its European partners.
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