GENEVA/ROME, DECEMBER 23 – Around 100 people are feared to have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea yesterday. The Italian coastguard carried out four rescue operations in the Central Mediterranean Sea. These latest tragedies bring the number of casualties in the Mediterranean this year to over 5,000. This is the worst annual death toll ever seen, the UNHCR said on Friday in Geneva. “Without strong peacemaking, real development and alternative pathways, 2017 will be even more tragic”, warned the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi warned on Twitter.
In two separate incidents rubber dinghies collapsed and passengers fell into the sea, the Italian Coastguard reported. The first dinghy was carrying between 120 and 140 people including many women and children. Only 63 people survived after the dinghy collapsed and passengers fell into the water. The second dinghy was carrying about 120 people and 80 were rescued by the Coastguard. Around 175 people were successfully rescued from another dinghy and a wooden boat. The Coastguard disembarked 264 people last night in Trapani, Sicily. Eight bodies were also recovered during the operations.
Before the latest incidents, IOM had reported that an average of 14 people have died every day in the Mediterranean Sea during 2016, the highest number ever recorded. Last year, when over a million people crossed the Mediterranean, 3771 casualties were recorded. “This situation highlights the urgent need for States to increase pathways for admission of refugees, such as resettlement, private sponsorship, family reunification and student scholarship schemes, among others, so they do not have to resort to dangerous journeys and the use of smugglers”, UNHCR Spokesperson William Spindler.
The causes for the alarming increase in deaths this year are multiple but appear to be related to the declining quality of the vessels used by people smugglers, the vagaries of the weather and the tactics used by smugglers to avoid detection by the authorities. These include sending large numbers of embarkations simultaneously, which makes the work of rescuers more difficult, said Spindler.
“This tragedy reminds us that the humanitarian emergency involving thousands of people dying while trying to flee Libya is not over,” said IOM representative in Rome Flavio Di Giacomo. “In 2016 the number of arrivals by sea in Italy has kept growing, but the number of migrants dying is up dramatically”
According to Di Giacomo explained that the number of shipwrecks reflects the poor state of the boats, compounded by harsh weather conditions at sea in this season. “We are seeing more migrants crossing this winter. This trend confirms the fact that conditions in Libya are becoming increasingly dangerous for migrants, who are often trying to flee the country in order to save their lives,” he said.
“Many people have told us that they didn’t want to come to Europe when they left their country of origin. For many of them the destination country was Libya. But what they found there was abuse and violence. As a consequence, they decided to try the sea crossing, putting their lives in the hands of unscrupulous smugglers, who forced them to embark on vessels unfit to sail. These shipwrecks cannot be therefore considered mere ‘incidents.’ They are the consequence of criminal behaviour by smugglers.”
IOM Rome also reported Thursday 179,525 migrants arrived in Italy by sea this year, a 19 percent increase compared to the same period last year, and a 7 percent increase over 2014.
Arrivals through the first three weeks of this month totalled 6,517, or nearly 2,200 per week – compared with a weekly average for the entire year of nearly 3,600.
Since the start of 2014, IOM calculates over half a million sea-borne migrants have entered Europe via the Central Mediterranean route linking North Africa to Italy. This year’s totals almost certainly will top 180,000 – making 2016 the busiest year for this route since the current migration emergency began. (@OnuItalia)