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IOM: over 3,000 deaths in Mediterranean in 2017, despite reduced crossings

GENEVA, NOVEMBER 28 – The International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN Migration Agency, is reporting that a grim weekend of death has resulted in the confirmation of at least 3,000 migrant or refugee deaths on Mediterranean Sea routes through 26 November 2017, marking the fourth consecutive year that IOM’s Missing Migrants Project (MMP) has reported this total.

Deaths across the Mediterranean since the October 2013 Lampedusa tragedy – a shipwreck that took the lives of over 360 victims – now have surpassed 15,000, or more than 50 per cent of all migrant and refugee deaths worldwide over these last four years.

“We’ve been saying this for years and we’ll keep on saying it: It’s no longer enough to simply count these tragic statistics. We must also act,” said William Lacy Swing, IOM Director General, on Monday. “This latest news, coming on the heels of all we have learned of open slave markets in Libya, the deprivation we see of those held by smugglers en route to the Mediterranean coast, and the difficult conditions of Libyan detention centres, all demand our attention. We must end these practices and manage migration in a way that is safe, regular and secure for all.”

IOM’s Missing Migrants Project last week reported migration along the three main sea routes of the Mediterranean had left 2,993 victims through Friday, 24 November. Over the weekend IOM learned of at least eight deaths on the Western Mediterranean route linking North Africa to Spain as well of the death of a 10-year-old Afghan boy off the Greek island of Lesvos.  Also this past weekend IOM learned at least 31 migrants perished in an incident off Libya’s coastal city of Garabulli in a boat capsizing. It is believed that many migrants went missing.

“Horrifying news this weekend as more lives are lost at sea in their search for better life opportunities,” said Othman Belbeisi, Chief of Mission of IOM Libya. “More has to be done to reduce irregular, unsafe movements of people along the Central Mediterranean route.”

Today’s total of all known and suspected drownings stands at 3,033 through Sunday, 26 November – which translates as an average of nearly ten deaths per day since the first of January. This year over 2,800 drowned trying to reach Italian shores.

Eugenio Ambrosi, IOM Regional Director for the European Union, Norway and Switzerland warned that the continuing alarming rate of fatalities raises serious questions about the policy and measures currently in place.

“People are still dying at sea in enormous numbers, even after years of seeing this happen repeatedly. We have to ask ourselves, why is this still happening?” Ambrosi said Monday in Brussels.  “Rescue at sea needs to be more robust and well resourced, with a clear, life-saving mandate and better cooperation among all actors involved. But at the same time, the best way to save lives is to offer migrants a way around smugglers through safe and legal bridges to Europe,” he added.

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