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Europe sees fewer migrants, but Mediterranean crossings still deadly

19 January 2018


SOS Mediterranee rescuers, with refugees, during a search and rescue mission off the Libyan coast, on Tuesday

SOS Mediterranee rescuers, with refugees, during a search and rescue mission off the Libyan coast, on Tuesday

MORE than 3100 migrants died trying to cross the Mediterranean into Europe in 2017, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has said.

While the number who died was 2000 less than the figure for 2016, the Mediterranean still represents by far the most deadly border in the world: 58 per cent of all migrant deaths worldwide occur in the sea crossing to Europe from North Africa.

The IOM estimated that about 171,635 migrants reached Europe via the Mediterranean last year. This was a large fall from 2016, when more than 363,000 people arrived through the same route.

Despite the fall in deaths, 2017 was a more dangerous year for those attempting to cross the Mediterranean into Europe than 2016: 18 in every thousand people making the crossing died in 2017, compared with 14 in each thousand in the previous year.

The IOM also said that all its estimates for fatalities were almost certainly too low, as some boats carrying refugees and migrants sank, and no rescue organisation was alerted.

“People are still dying at sea in enormous numbers, even after years of seeing this happen repeatedly,” the IOM regional director for the European Union, Eugenio Ambrosi, said last November. “We have to ask ourselves, why is this still happening?

“Rescue at sea needs to be more robust and well resourced, with a clear lifesaving mandate, and better co-operation 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.”

Despite the continuing risks, thousands of migrants are still attempting to make the Mediterranean crossing, and many get into difficulty. Less than a week into the new year, the IOM reported that about 200 people were missing or reported to have died on that route, and a further 800 had been picked up by rescue ships. Much more needed to be done to create safe alternatives for those committed to reaching Europe, officials said.

“It’s very distressing that, during the first ten days of 2018, we have seen close to 800 migrants rescued or intercepted off the Libyan coast, with more lives lost at sea,” the head of the IOM’s Libya Mission, Othman Belbeisi, said. “More has to be done to reduce irregular unsafe movements of people along the Central Mediterranean route.”

The UN Refugee Agency agreed. Their spokesman, William Spindler, said: “[We] have been advocating for a comprehensive approach to address movements of migrants and refugees who embark on perilous journeys across the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean.”

In September, the UN estimated that about 277,000 refugees needed resettling in 15 countries along the Mediterranean route. Only 13,000 places were offered by these countries, however, representing less than five per cent of the need.

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