Over 2,000 perish in failed bid to cross Mediterranean

Tuesday, December 19th, 2023 01:45 | By
Eighteen people on a small wooden boat near the Italian island of Lampedusa, in the Mediterranean Sea, in 2021. PHOTO/IOM

The Central Mediterranean migration route has claimed 2,250 people this year,  making it the most  dangerous corridor, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Most of them drowned.

“A dramatic number which unfortunately demonstrates that not enough is being done to save lives at sea,” said IOM spokesperson Flavio di Giacomo.

Libya and Tunisia are principal departure points for refugees and asylum seekers risking dangerous sea voyages in hopes of reaching Europe, via Italy. As a result, the majority of the deaths were recorded in Tunisia, followed by Libya.

The latest is the drowning of 61 migrants, including women and children on Saturday following a tragic shipwreck off Libya.

The IOM, in a post on social media platform X, quoted survivors as saying the boat, carrying around 86 people, departed the Libyan city of Zwara, about 110 km from the capital, Tripoli.

Most of the victims were from Nigeria, The Gambia and other African countries, the IOM Libya office said, adding that nearly 25 people were rescued and transferred to a Libyan detention centre. All the survivors are said to be in good condition and provided with medical support.

On June 14, the Adriana, a fishing boat loaded with 750 people en route from Torbuk, Libya to Italy, went down in international waters off southwest Greece. According to survivors, the ship was carrying mainly Syrians, Pakistanis and Egyptians. Only 104 survived and 82 bodies were recovered. The fate of 518 others is still unknown, according to an IOM report.

The Central Mediterranean is among the region’s most-traveled migratory routes, with most boats departing from Northern Africa and journeying to Europe. About 128,529 people arrived in Italy, Malta or Spain via the route in the first nine months of 2023, up from 87,503 the year prior, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

“Population movements due to forced displacement and migration in East, West and Central Africa are likely to continue in 2024 at the same pace as 2023 or at an even higher rate,” the agency said.

The European Union and Tunisia signed a “strategic partnership” deal in July that includes combating human traffickers and tightening sea borders during a sharp increase in boats leaving the North African nation for Europe.

Britain and Italy announced plans on Saturday to jointly finance the journey home for migrants stranded in Tunisia, according to statements from both countries.

Italy Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on Saturday met with UK PM Rishi Sunak and Albania’s PM Edi Rama in Rome to discuss ways of combating undocumented migration to Europe.

Both Meloni and Sunak have adopted a hardline policy against immigration. The UK has clamped down on immigrants and asylum seekers using small boats to cross the English Channel. A plan to send migrants and asylum seekers to Rwanda was declared “unlawful” by the UK’s highest court. The migrants and refugees are usually put into boats that are not big enough to safely move them across the treacherous route.

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