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Migrant death toll down but still tragic

20 December 20170 comments

At least 3000 migrants died on Mediterranean Sea routes during November, the UN’s migration arm the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has reported.

Deaths of people crossing the Mediterranean since the so called ‘Lampedusa tragedy’ – a shipwreck in October 2013 that took the lives of over 360 victims – now have exceeded 5,000, or more than 50 per cent of all migrant and refugee deaths worldwide over these last four years.

The IOM’s Missing Migrants Project last week reported migration along the three main sea routes of the Mediterranean had left 3,033 victims up till the end of November. The tragic toll represents an average of nearly ten deaths per day since the first of January.

Most recently, at least eight died on the Western Mediterranean route linking North Africa to Spain as well of the death of a 10-year-old Afghan boy off the Greek island of Lesvos.

Also, IOM reported at least 31 migrants perished in an incident off Libya’s coastal city of Garabulli in a boat capsizing.

IOM Director General William Lacy Swing said the death toll was unacceptable.

“We’ve been saying this for years and we’ll keep on saying it: It’s no longer enough to simply count these tragic statistics. We must also act,” he said.

“This latest news, coming on the heels of all we have learned of open slave markets in Libya, the deprivation we see of those held by smugglers en route to the Mediterranean coast, and the difficult conditions of Libyan detention centres, all demand our attention. We must end these practices and manage migration in a way that is safe, regular and secure for all,” Mr Swing said.

In recent years – including 2015, when total irregular traffic by migrants across the Mediterranean surged past one million men, women and children – the 3,000 fatality threshold was breached during the late summer season.

In both 2014 and 2015 IOM recorded at least 3,000 sea deaths in the region during the second half of September. Last year, when 5,000 migrant deaths were recorded in the deadliest year on record, the 3,000 mark came on 20 July.

The IOM says that 163,979 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea in 2017 through 26 November, with about 75 per cent arriving in Italy and the remainder divided between Greece, Cyprus and Spain. This compares with 348,591 arrivals across the region through the same period last year.

Worldwide, IOM’s Missing Migrants Project has recorded the deaths of 5,124 people migrating in 2017.

In the Caribbean, three Haitian migrants died in a vehicle accident in November on a motorway in the department of Monte Cristi, Dominican Republic, shortly after crossing the border from Haiti.

On the US/Mexico border, reports emerged of the death of an 18-year-old from Ecuador, Manuel Yunga, who drowned when crossing the Río Bravo on 21 September in Laredo, Webb County, Texas.


Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist