Deadly Mediterranean crossings to continue

Sunday 31/07/2016
Libyan emergency services remove one of more than 100 bodies pulled from the Mediterranean Sea after a smuggling boat carrying mainly African migrants sank, near the western city of Zwara, Libya, last June.

London - Europe is bracing for an­other deadly summer as hundreds of thousands of desperate economic mi­grants and refugees from across Africa and the Middle East seeking to start a new life in the West attempt to cross the Mediter­ranean.

More than 3,000 migrants and refugees have died trying to cross the Mediterranean in 2016, the In­ternational Organisation for Migra­tion (IOM) reported. That figure is expected to increase as the sum­mer drags on. Deaths did not hit the 3,000 mark until September in 2014 and October in 2015.

More than 250,000 migrants and refugees have made the perilous journey to Europe — mostly to Italy and Greece — this year as Europe faces the prospect of another wave of mass migration — and deaths.

“The latest discovery of 39 bod­ies washed up on Libyan shores this week bring the number of cas­ualties to over 3,034 among the mi­grants and refugees who attempted to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe in 2016,” the IOM said in a July 26th release.

“This year’s total so far is signifi­cantly higher compared to last year as of end of July 2015, when 1,917 had lost their lives at sea,” the IOM added.

Although fewer migrants over­all sought to attempt the more dangerous central Mediterranean route via North Africa to Italy than at this time in 2015, far more have died than in previous years. This is because people smugglers are us­ing larger ships to make the jour­ney. While this means that there are fewer shipwrecks than before, when most migrants would attempt the journey in small dinghies, any shipwreck is likely to lead to a far greater loss of life.

“Despite the constant and in­creased patrolling of the Mediter­ranean, it has proved extremely difficult to reduce the number of victims. Sometimes it has taken only a few shipwrecks to cause hundreds of casualties,” IOM Rome spokesman Flavio Di Giacomo said.

IOM figures revealed that 88,351 people made the journey across the Mediterranean to Italy in 2016 as of May 31st, compared to 93,540 dur­ing the same period in 2015. As for the eastern Mediterranean route via Greece, 159,657 had made that trip in the same period in 2016, compared to 126,514 last year.

It is the central Mediterranean route, particularly via Libya to Italy, that has seen the largest loss of life and which is the biggest concern for EU authorities after the EU-Tur­key deal helped to stem the flow of migrants to Greece and southern European states beefed up border security.

“Migratory pressure in the central Mediterranean region re­mained high in June, with the number of migrants arriving in Italy last month increasing by 24% from the previous month to some 22,500,” Frontex, the EU border agency, said.

Most migrants making the jour­ney to Italy from North Africa are Africans, particularly from Nigeria, Eritrea and Sudan, and are viewed by the European Union as econom­ic migrants, not asylum seekers. Syrians and Afghans, who are more likely to take the route via Turkey through Greece, are also more like­ly to have their asylum applications approved by the European Union.

To illustrate the scale of migra­tion across the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy during the summer, when seas are comparatively calm, 2,150 migrants and refugees were rescued from boats and dinghies in the Strait of Sicily in 18 separate operations on July 22nd, the Italian Coast Guard said. Two days ear­lier, 3,200 migrants were rescued as part of 25 operations. It was not known how many people, if any, died during those operations but IOM figures indicate an average of 20 refugees dying each day.