The United Nations announced on Wednesday that as many as 300 migrants are thought to have perished in the Mediterranean Sea this week after their boats overturned while attempting to cross from Libya to Italy. Vincent Cochetel, the regional director of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, called the incident a "tragedy on an enormous scale."
The migrants were “swallowed up by the waves,” another United Nations official said. Over the course of the past few months, several incidents involving migrants and refugees have captured (quickly fleeting) attention. Earlier this year, two cargo "ghost ships," carrying nearly 1,500 asylum-seekers and set to autopilot by fleeing smugglers, were rescued before they crashed into the Italian coast. That group constituted a tiny fraction of the 170,000 people intercepted by Italian rescuers in just over one year.
Late last year, the International Organization for Migration estimated that over 3,000 migrants had died while trying to cross the Mediterranean in 2014. "There needs to be a united response to the question of migration," said Pope Francis, following the rescue of 600 migrants traveling from North Africa to Sicily in November. "We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery."