The crossing fast becoming one of the world's most perilous migration routes

Record numbers of migrants are risking the dangerous Mediterranean journey to Italy, as political instability and economic woes grip Tunisia. James Mates reports

Another day, and yet another tragedy in the Mediterranean on the route between Tunisia and the Italian island of Lampedusa.

The Italian coastguard say 15 are missing after a small boat capsized in the early hours of yesterday morning, with just four people rescued by a local fishing boat.

The numbers dying this spring are extraordinary, because the numbers setting out on the voyage have exploded.

More than 30,000 have arrived in Italy this year already, four times the number in previous years.

Normally migrants wait for the calm waters of summer. Not this year.

The reasons are plentiful: political instability and rocketing inflation in Tunisia driving migrant workers out of the country and towards Europe.

The economic impact across Africa of the Ukraine war.

The robust, almost ruthless way the Greek authorities are discouraging small boats off their shores.

'I need their freedom': Many making the trip aren't worried about where they end up, so long as they are free

The refusal of Malta to rescue or accept anyone who sets sail in a rickety craft.

The result is that the whole burden is falling on Italy, whose compassion remains intact in terms of rescuing and bringing ashore anyone in trouble at sea.

The coastguard in Lampedusa, just 60 miles or so from the coast of Africa, routinely patrol waters 24 miles or more from the shores of Tunisia or Libya.

Little wonder it has now become the favoured route for anyone hoping to make it to Europe.

For the Italian government it is a physical and - increasingly - a political problem.

Physically they don’t know where to put all the new arrivals, trying now to distribute them evenly across the country.

The downside of this is that the problem is now landing on the doorstep of every Italian, even the government’s natural supporters further north.

Giorgia Meloni's approval ratings have taken a plunge after her promises to 'stop the small boats' have gone unfulfilled. Credit: AP

New Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni was elected on a promise to ‘stop the small boats’ – the fact the numbers have risen to unprecedented levels in her short time in power may not have been her fault, but it is destroying her approval ratings.

If Meloni is hoping for help from Europe in sharing the burden she is likely to be disappointed – there appears to be no appetite in other countries, particularly those who have already accommodated large numbers from Ukraine, to take any more.

Germany, France the UK may end up getting them anyway as they filter through porous Schengen borders and towards Northern Europe, even towards a second boat journey across the Channel.

'It isn't going to end': James Mates explains that the sheer amount of money being made through transporting migrants means there will always be people willing to facilitate trips

Ending the transit across the Mediterranean will be a Herculean task, given the rewards available to the people smugglers.

We spoke to a group of more than 200 migrants from Bangladesh who said they had been flown through Dubai to Libya where they each paid the smugglers US $6,000 (£4,800) for a place on an old fishing boat. 

Six-thousand times 214: that’s close to US $1.3 million (£1.04m).

Big business.

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