Saturday

23rd Feb 2019

EU migrant route now twice as deadly

  • Smugglers are overcrowding rubber boats (Photo: EEAS)

The number of people dying to reach safety in Europe has soared over the past seven months and almost doubled when compared to last year.

Over 3,100 have perished so far in the Mediterranean compared to around 1,900 over the same period in 2015. Most of the drownings occurred after leaving the north African coast in an effort to reach Italy.

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Yet the Geneva-based International Organisation for Migration (IOM) says the total number of arrivals by sea in Europe is only slightly higher than the same period in 2015.

Over 250,000 made the journey this year compared to around 220,000 last year. Some 94,000 landed in Italy with many from places including Eritrea, Nigeria and Sudan. The remainder, mostly from Syria, ended up in Greece.

Asked to explain the increase in drownings, the EU's border agency Frontex said smugglers are putting more people on rubber boats than before.

"We have noticed that the rubber boats are more overcrowded than they use to be," Frontex spokeswoman Ewa Moncure told EUobserver. Moncure said smaller rubber boats are also being used.

The average number of migrants on each 10-12 metre-long rubber dinghy also rose by more than a quarter. Some now have over 100 people onboard.

223 boats seized

It is not immediately clear why smugglers in Libya are putting more and more people on rubber dinghys.

But Operation Sophia, the EU's smuggler-busting naval campaign, has since last October seized over 223 boats. They've also delivered 82 suspected smugglers to Italian authorities.

The naval campaign is composed of five ships, including an Italian light aircraft carrier, Spanish frigate, and other military assets from Germany, Luxembourg, and the UK.

On Monday (2 August), it was involved in an Italian-led rescue operations that plucked some 1,800 out of the water off the coast of Libya.

A European Commission spokesperson said Sophia has also been involved in 136 rescue operations and directly saved more than 21,000 lives.

They have assisted in the rescues of another 35,000.

"In 2015 and 2016, EU operations have contributed to saving more than 240,000 people in the Mediterranean - out of which more than 90,000 on the Central Mediterranean route," said the spokesperson in an email.

The Italian coastguard, also on Monday, said it had rescued over 8,300 people in the past five days alone.

Greece

Fewer people are making the Aegean Sea journey to Greece from Turkey since the EU signed off a migrant swap deal in March. Around 89 people are arriving every day on average as opposed to 1,700 at its height last year.

But the IOM, for its part, has also registered a jump since the failed military coup in Turkey on 15 July.

It noted a 111 percent increase from 14-20 July (375 arrivals) to 21-28 July (790 arrivals).

EU won't budge on Turkey visa demands

Turkey must meet five more benchmarks before the EU will lift any visa restrictions. The demands have received short shrift from Ankara amid its post-coup crackdown.

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