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Refugee flows in the Med easing, but more deadly

5 March 20190 comments

The flow of refugees across the Mediterranean is showing signs of slowing but the route remains the deadliest for people seeking asylum or sanctuary, according to new data from the United Nations.

The UN’s migration agency, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), has reported that 8,950 migrants and refugees had entered Europe by sea in the period to February 24, a 10 per cent decrease from the 10,016 arriving during the same period last year.

But deaths on the three main Mediterranean Sea routes through almost seven weeks of the new year are at 223 individuals – or about one half the 437 deaths that occurred during the same period in 2018

The IOM reported 5,989 refugees had reached Europe by sea in January, a slight decrease from the 6,550 arriving during the same period last year, while some 208 died while attempting.

“Deaths on the three main Mediterranean Sea routes through just over four weeks of the new year are at 208 individuals, compared with 243 deaths during the same period in 2018,” a report released by International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said.

IOM also said nearly 308 people have died or went missing around the world in the new year, making Mediterranean deaths “two-thirds of the worldwide total”.

In January, 1,839 refugees reached Greece by crossing the East Mediterranean, the sea route from Turkey to Greece, while two drowned during the treacherous journey, according to the UN report.

Some 30,510 migrants died between 2014 and 2018 while making the dangerous journey to Europe, the UN has reported previously.

Turkey and the European Union signed a deal in 2016 to curb illegal immigration through the dangerous Aegean Sea route from Turkey to Greece.

According to the deal, the EU promised the allocation of 3 billion euro in aid to Turkey, which is home to some 4 million who have fled Syria.

NGOs have criticised EU leaders over the rise in the ratio of fatalities.

A letter signed by dozens of NGOs says arrivals to Europe across the Mediterranean and the overall number of deaths both fell sharply in 2018, but deaths per arrival rose sharply.

A ratio of one in 269 in 2015 has risen to one in 51 in 2018.

For people leaving from Libya, the death rate is a staggering one in 14 and the rate of deaths across the Western Mediterranean to Spain quadrupled last year.

Two years since the EU-backed Italy-Libya deal sought to stem the flow by supporting the Libyan coastguard while Tripoli cracked down on smuggling operations, anger is growing as EU nations prevent rescue operations and refuse to allow migrant-carrying vessels to dock.

The NGO letter sent to the EU chief s contained three main demands: support search and rescue operations; adopt timely and predictable disembarkation arrangements; and, end returns to Libya.

A statement from Oxfam said: “People are now in even more in danger at sea and are being taken back by the Libyan coastguard to face human rights abuses in Libya”.

And recent double migrant boat disaster off the coast of Djibouti, in the Gulf of Aden, that saw more than 100 people dead or missing is a reminder that this is not just a problem in the Mediterranean.


Laurie Nowell 

AMES Australia Senior Journalist