Mediterranean turns into 'most deadly stretch of water'
by Anadolu Agency
ISTANBULApr 21, 2015 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Anadolu Agency
Apr 21, 2015 12:00 am
Every year, thousands of migrants fleeing conflict, instability or economic hardship in the Middle East and Africa, risk their lives in overcrowded boats to reach the shores of Europe. The latest tragedy occurred on Sunday, when a boat carrying around 700 migrants capsized in the Mediterranean Sea on its way to Italy from Libya. Officials believe that most migrants drowned. The incident came just a week after a double-decked boat overturned around 120 kilometers south of Italy's Lampedusa Island with around 550 people on board. Some 400 migrants lost their lives at sea. If the latest death toll is confirmed, since the beginning of January this year, the number of deaths by drowning in the waters between Libya and Italy will pass 1,500, according to the International Organization for Migration, or IOM.
William Lacy Swing, director general of the International Organization for Migration, said this number has increased 10-fold since the beginning of 2015, compared to the same period last year. In 2014, about 219,000 migrants and asylum seekers crossed the Mediterranean to reach Europe, and 3,500 lives were lost at sea. For the past 20 years, these numbers have been steadily increasing. In 2012, the U.N. refugee agency called the Mediterranean "the most deadly stretch of water for refugees and migrants."
Between 1993 and 2014, more than 30,000 migrants have died while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea in the hopes for a better future in Europe, Nicolas Lambert, an expert with the French National Center for Scientific Research said in a previous interview with Anadolu Agency. Lambert, who has listed migrant tragedies from 1993 to 2014, said 1,600 people died between 1993 and 1998, 3,700 between 1999 and 2002, 7,200 between 2003 and 2006, and over 8,000 between 2007 and 2010. Between 2011 and 2014, around 10,000 have perished in the Mediterranean. The 2013 Lampedusa shipwreck garnered considerable media coverage. On Oct. 3, a fishing boat capsized off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa, leading to the deaths of some 360 people, most of them from Eritrea and Somalia.
Media reports said the boat had been adrift for two days when it found itself barely a quarter of a mile away from the island. The passengers reportedly lit a blanket to make a signal but panic ensued when the fire ignited gasoline. As some tried to escape the flames, the boat capsized. There were 155 survivors. The soaring number of deaths has renewed criticism of the EU's response. The Save the Children charity has accused the EU of ignoring deaths in the Mediterranean Sea. The charity's spokesperson, Gemma Parkin, told Anadolu Agency in an interview last Thursday that by ending its Mare Nostrum EU search-and-rescue operation in the Mediterranean Sea, the EU was "closing its eyes" as tragedies unfolded before it. The operation was established by Italy in October 2013 to thoroughly search the sea for migrants at risk of drowning. However, due to lack of funding by the EU, it was replaced a year later by the less funded and less ambitious Triton operation, managed by Frontex, the EU's border control agency.
The International Organization for Migration director general said the world was living through "unprecedented humanitarian emergencies," with conflicts in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Libya, Nigeria and Yemen. "These are all push factors, and they are driving more and more people to try to find security, stability and a better life," he added. In his interview, he also warned that "as the weather gets better, more and more migrants will make deadly Mediterranean crossings." According to the International Organization for Migration, the majority of incoming migrants are from Sub-Saharan Africa, Eritrea, Somalia and Syria.