LIBYA (Christian Examiner) – A wooden fishing vessel carrying upwards of 700 migrants capsized 15 miles off the coast of Libya last week, further taxing the limited search and rescue operations available on the Mediterranean and causing the death of hundreds.
UN Refugee Agency spokesperson Melissa Fleming reported one of the youngest survivors was a 1-year-old Palestinian girl named Azeel and her parents, Mohamed and Diana. Azeel was under water when Mohamed was able to reach her and pull her to the surface.
"Refugees and migrants do not deserve to die seeking a better life," Fleming said, noting 200,000 refugees have arrived in Europe this year across the Mediterranean. Of that number 2,000 have died trying to reach Europe, according statistics published by the International Organization for Migration.
The immigrants are fleeing war, conflict and persecution by ISIS and other terror groups.
In the same period last year, 1,607 migrants perished. A total of 3,279 lost their lives in 2014.
The Mediterranean route is one of the most dangerous for migrants because of the turbulent sea and overcrowded transportation. The disaster is reminiscent of the deadliest Mediterranean shipwreck in decades, when a vessel of over 800 migrants capsized in April.
In this week's accident, vessels from Doctors without Borders (MSF) and the Irish Navy arrived in response to a distress call from the Italian Coast Guard on behalf of the sinking boat and rescued about 400 people from the wreckage.
In a press release, MSF reports that this tragedy underscores the critical need for search and rescue resources. Its vessel Dignity I was on the way to the Libyan wreckage when it was diverted to another distress call involving migrants.
"The fact that we were first called to assist this boat and then shortly afterwards sent to another one highlights the severe lack of resources available for rescue operations," said Juan Matías, aboard the Dignity I.
After rescuing nearly 100 people, the Dignity I continued toward Libya.
"It was a horrific sight, people desperately clinging to lifebelts, boats and anything they could to fighting for their lives, amidst people drowning, and those who had already died," Matías said.
Meanwhile, the Irish patrol vessel LÉ Niamh was first on the rescue scene. Due to the speed at which the boat capsized and sank, RTÉ News reported, the crew of the LÉ Niamh did not get a chance to search for people who may have been trapped in the fishing boat.
The boat was likely carrying well over ten times its ordinary capacity of about 50 people. LÉ Niamh also rescued 25 bodies, some of children.
"It was a very difficult rescue operation and they did as much as they could," said Irish Minister for Defence Simon Coveney. "It is a scene that will scar people for some time."
The Irish vessel transported 375 of the migrants to Palermo, Italy.