Migrant deaths on sea routes to Europe more than doubled, new UN report says

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The number of migrants and refugees who have died on dangerous sea routes to Europe has more than doubled so far this year, the United Nations Migration Agency said in a new report.

At least 1,146 people died between January and June, according to the International Organization for Migration. The number of people traveling on sea routes to Europe has also increased, but only 56%, according to the IOM report.

The central Mediterranean route between Libya and Italy was the deadliest, killing 741.

Next is the stretch of the Atlantic Ocean between West Africa and Spain’s Canary Islands, where at least 250 people have died, the agency said.

At least 149 people have also died on the route from the Western Mediterranean to Spain, as well as at least six on the route from the Eastern Mediterranean to Greece.

IOM says the actual number of fatalities on sea routes to Europe could be much higher, as many shipwrecks go unreported and others are difficult to verify.

Increased dependence on North African countries

Human rights organizations have warned that the absence of government search and rescue vessels, especially in the central Mediterranean, will make migrant crossings more dangerous.

European governments are increasingly relying on and supporting North African countries with fewer resources to manage search and rescue operations.

Tunisia increased operations by 90% in the first six months of 2021, as Libyan authorities intercepted and returned more than 15,000 men, women and children to the war-torn country – three times as many people. than at the same time last year, according to IOM. report said.

Meanwhile, Italian authorities have increasingly targeted charity rescue vessels that have worked over the years to fill the void left by European governments, routinely detaining vessels operated by non-governmental organizations for months, sometimes years.

While many factors have contributed to the increase in the death toll this year, including an increase in the number of fragile boats attempting sea crossings, “the lack of proactive, European and EU-led search and rescue operations. the state in international waters, combined with restrictions on NGOs ”were among the main factors, said IOM spokesperson Safa Msehli.

“These people cannot be left on such a dangerous journey,” Msehli told The Associated Press.

Restrictions on NGOs

Italy has owned nine NGO-operated vessels so far this year, according to Matteo Villa, a researcher for the independent Think Thank ISPI, which tracks migration data and statistics.

Mediterranean countries such as Italy, Malta, Spain and Greece have repeatedly asked other European countries for help in caring for those rescued and brought back to their shores.

Last year, when restrictions linked to the pandemic made it difficult to travel between countries, the number of refugees and migrants arriving in Europe by sea fell to its lowest level since 2015. That year, 1 million reached Europe, including many refugees fleeing the war in Syria. .

The deadliest shipwreck to date this year took place on April 22 off the coast of Libya, when 130 people drowned despite sending several distress calls.

The EU-trained and equipped Libyan coastguard came under criticism after a video was broadcast showing one of its ships chasing and firing warning shots at a migrant boat on June 30.

Libyan authorities have acknowledged that the actions of the coastguard vessel endangered the lives of migrants and have vowed to hold those responsible to account.

In recent years, human rights groups have reported ill-treatment, torture and abuse inflicted on migrants and refugees after they were intercepted by the Libyan coast guard and placed in detention centers.

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