More than 2,000 migrants have died crossing the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach Europe this year, the International Organization for Migration reported just a day before an overcrowded fishing boat carrying at least 600 migrants capsized off Zuwara, Libya.
“We have seen a constant and intense flux of arrivals, and many unaccompanied children, but the real problem is the number of dead. It is much higher than years past,” Giovanna Di Benedetto of Save the Children in Sicily told The Telegraph, after the news of the capsized boat in Libya. Wednesday’s tragedy is believed to be the biggest Mediterranean disaster since 800 people drowned in April. “Every single day we have corpses coming off the boats. Unfortunately with this latest accident, we await many more. It is unacceptable.”
The IOM report found that, just like in 2014, the overwhelming majority of migrants died in the Channel of Sicily in the Central Mediterranean route, which connects Libya with Italy. During the same time period last year, 1,607 migrants died, putting 2015 on track to become the deadliest year for migrants escaping violence and poverty in the Middle East and North Africa.
At least 188,000 migrants have been rescued so far this year. IOM experts warn that the total figure could hit a 200,000 milestone soon as summer progresses and more migrants attempt to reach European shores.
Most of the migrants crossing the Mediterranean this year have landed in either Italy or Greece. The New York Times recently reported that about 60 percent of arrivals are from Syria when they arrive in the Greece island of Lesbos. Twenty percent of arrivals in Greece comprise of Afghans, but other migrants come from Somalia, Congo, Eritrea, and Pakistan.
African migrants often head for Britain since they already have family in the country. Britain also has a more lenient asylum process, allowing migrants to either be held in detention centers or be granted temporary release so that they can remain in the United Kingdom.
Last week, in the northern French port city of Calais, hundreds of people desperate to reach Britain attempted to breach the 31-mile Eurotunnel, the Channel Tunnel, Agence France Presse reported. Anywhere between 1,500 and 2,1000 attempts were made through the tunnel. Some hid in trucks and at least one man, possibly from Sudan, was reportedly crushed to death by a truck. Eurotunnel said in a statement that it had intercepted more than 37,000 migrants since January, the New York Times reported.
“It is unacceptable that in the 21st century people fleeing from conflict, persecutions, misery and land degradation must endure such terrible experiences in their home countries, not to mention en route, and then die on Europe’s doorstep,” IOM Director General William Lacy Swing said in a statement.
Once migrants make it to land, though they aren’t necessarily greeted with open arms. Their presence has set off a political firestorm. “Everyone is blaming each other for not handling the crisis properly,” Camino Mortera-Martinez, a research fellow at the Center for European Reform, a research institute, told the New York Times. “The Italians and Greeks are blaming everyone else for not helping them. France is blaming Italy for giving documents to asylum seekers, without checking them properly, so they can move on.”
Deaths at sea have gradually slowed in recent months, in part due to the European Union’s Triton operation, which provides air surveillance and additional vessels to patrol international waters. Migrants are also saved by the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), a privately-funded charity operation based in Malta, which deploys a 130-foot vessel called The Phoenix, two remote aircrafts, and two inflatable boats. As of Wednesday, MOAS has saved 8910 lives so far. Within three months, MOAS assisted 17 vessels in distress with coordination with Rome’s Maritime Rescue Coordination Center. Doctors Without Borders also has two boats to deploy.
But these deaths won’t stop as long as human smugglers take advantage of migrants on unseaworthy vessels. A 11-year-old diabetic girl died in her mother’s arms five days after human smugglers threw her insulin overboard last month. When as many as 500 people traveling to Italy died when their vessel capsized last September, traffickers allegedly laughed as they used a bigger ship to hit a vessel to “make sure that it had sunk completely before leaving.”
And migrants will remain desperate to enter Europe as they flee volatile conditions at home. A 27-year-old Moroccan man suffocated to death in a suitcase after his brother tried to smuggle him into Spain over the weekend. This comes just months after an eight-year-old boy from the Ivory Coast was found alive in a suitcase when it passed through a security checkpoint in Ceuta, Spain, which sits across from Morocco.