1,600 migrants lost in the Mediterranean this year

ROME – This week’s sinking of a boat with more than 30 people on board is the most serious migration tragedies yet in the English Channel.

However, migrant shipwrecks of this size are not rare in the waters around Europe’s southern border.

This year alone, UN officials estimate that 1,600 people have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean, Europe’s main gateway for migrants trying to enter the continent with the help of people 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 trying to cross the Mediterranean in rickety boats or inflatable dinghies, culminating in more than 5,000 people in 2016. In the same seven-year period, about 166 people died in English channel.

Last week, 85 people died in two separate incidents while trying to reach Italy from Libya, Flavio Di Giacomo, a spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration in Italy, said. Those tragedies were hardly noticed in Europe.

“I think it’s a matter of proximity,” Di Giacomo said. I think the media interest in what happened between the UK and France is also because this is new. Europe is not used to having that within the continent. It’s usually on the outer border.”

This year the busiest and deadliest migration route to Europe is the central Mediterranean as people travel in crowded boats from Libya and Tunisia – and in some cases all the way from Turkey – towards Italy. About 60,000 people have arrived in Italy by sea this year, and about 1,200 have died or disappeared during the voyage, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The number of missing is an estimate based in part on information from shipwreck survivors.

On Thursday, migrant rescue activists said a boat in the central Mediterranean with 430 people on board was carrying water and called on European authorities for help. Another boat operated by the charity Sea-Watch was looking for a safe port to disembark 463 rescued migrants.

Meanwhile, traffic has increased since last year on a more dangerous Atlantic route as migrants from Senegal, Mauritania or Morocco set out in simple wooden boats hoping to reach Spain’s Canary Islands. Some boats sink not far from the African coast and others disappear far away, in some cases losing the Canary Islands and drifting deep into the Atlantic.

“The road from West Africa is very long and very dangerous,” said Di Giacomo.

He said the International Organization for Migration had recorded 900 deaths on the Canary Islands route this year, but that the real number could double and “no one is paying much attention”.

Noting that nine out of 10 refugees have fled to neighboring countries, Carlotta Sami of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Italy said UNHCR is pressing EU governments to provide “safe corridors” for refugees to “reduce the number of those trying to make the perilous journey.” Extremely. . “

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