1,600 migrants lost at sea in the Mediterranean this year
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The sinking of a boat with more than 30 people on board this week is the deadliest migration tragedy to date in the English Channel
ROME – The sinking of a boat with more than 30 people on board this week is the deadliest migration tragedy to date in the English Channel.
Migrant wrecks of this magnitude, however, are not uncommon in the waters surrounding Europe’s southern borders.
This year alone, UN officials estimate 1,600 people have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean Sea, the main gateway to Europe for migrants attempting to enter the continent with the help of smugglers.
The death toll is higher than last year, but by no means unique. The International Organization for Migration estimates that 23,000 people have died since 2014 while attempting to cross the Mediterranean in rickety boats or rubber dinghies, peaking at over 5,000 in 2016. During the same period by seven years, about 166 people have died in England. channel.
Last week, 85 people died in two separate incidents as they tried to reach Italy from Libya, said Flavio di Giacomo, IOM spokesperson in Italy. These tragedies were hardly noticed in Europe.
“I think it’s a matter of proximity,” said di Giacomo. “I think the media attention to what happened between the UK and France is also due to the fact that it is new. Europe is not used to having this inside the continent; in general, it is at the external borders.
This year, the busiest and deadliest migration route to Europe is the central Mediterranean where people travel in crowded boats from Libya and Tunisia – and in some cases from Turkey – to Italy. About 60,000 people have arrived in Italy by sea this year, and some 1,200 have died or disappeared during the trip, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
The number of missing is an estimate based in part on information from shipwreck survivors.
Migrant rescue activists said on Thursday a boat in the central Mediterranean with 430 people on board was taking on water and called on European authorities to help them. Another boat operated by the Sea-Watch charity was looking for a safe port to disembark 463 rescued migrants.
Meanwhile, since last year, traffic has increased on an even more dangerous route in the Atlantic Ocean where migrants leave from Senegal, Mauritania or Morocco in simple wooden boats in the hope of reaching the Spanish Canary Islands. Some boats sink not far from the African coast and others disappear further away, in some cases missing the Canaries and drifting deep into the Atlantic.
“The road from West Africa is very long and very dangerous,” said di Giacomo.
IOM has recorded 900 road fatalities in the Canaries this year, he said, but the actual number could be double “and no one is paying much attention”.
More than 400 people were rescued this week as they tried to reach the island cluster.
Human rights groups often criticize European governments for failing to do more to rescue migrants trying to reach the continent aboard battered ships. Italian-led European rescue efforts in the central Mediterranean were scaled back a few years ago and the focus was on training and equipping the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept migrant boats before they cannot reach European waters. Critics say Europe is turning a blind eye to human rights violations in Libyan migrant detention centers.
Noting that nine in 10 refugees have fled to neighboring countries, Carlotta Sami of UNCHR in Italy said the agency is pushing for EU governments to provide “safe passages” for refugees “to decrease the number. of those trying to make the extremely risky journey. “
AP writer Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.
Follow all of AP’s stories on global migration at https://apnews.com/hub/migration
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