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Migrant Martyrs

VIENNA – On October 3, in a desperate effort to reach the European Union’s shores, 365 African migrants drowned when their boat capsized near the Italian island of Lampedusa. It was the deadliest migrant-ship disaster ever recorded. A shocked public demanded that such tragedies must not be allowed to happen again. But they already have – indeed, with the same frequency as before.

One week later, a ship carrying more hopeful migrants capsized in Maltese waters, killing 27 people. The same day, at least 12 migrants drowned near the Egyptian port of Alexandria. Later that month, rescue workers in Niger found the bodies of 92 migrants, including 52 children, who had died of thirst after their vehicles broke down in the Sahara Desert en route to Algeria, and possibly to the EU.

The Mediterranean Sea has long been a watery grave for those fleeing war, poverty, and hopelessness to the east and south. But it is not the only death trap. Migrant smuggling is a worldwide phenomenon, affecting almost every state as a country of origin, transit, or destination.

The Lampedusa disaster may have forced us to think harder about human rights, migration, border policies, and why people risk all for a better life. But there is another factor that we must not overlook: the role played by the smugglers who deal in desperation, and for whom loss of life – in Lampedusa, Niger, and so many other places – is merely a cost of business. The smugglers’ reassurances of a safe and successful journey mean little; they care only about being paid, not about whether these perilous journeys end in death.