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Report: Mediterranean Smuggling Route Most Deadly

  • Lisa Schlein

FILE - Public service workers bag bodies of migrants that drowned off Tripoli's coast, Aug. 25, 2014.

FILE - Public service workers bag bodies of migrants that drowned off Tripoli's coast, Aug. 25, 2014.

A new report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) found that more than 40,000 migrants who were fleeing war, persecution and poverty have died since 2000 in dangerous journeys across land and sea.

The 200-page report, called “Fatal Journeys: Tracking Lives Lost During Migration,” is the world’s most comprehensive tally to date of migrant fatalities.

The report said Europe is the world’s most dangerous destination for “irregular” migration.

The IOM reports said that since 2000, more than 22,000 migrants have lost their lives on treacherous routes across the Mediterranean Sea. The region has also set a record in 2014 for lives lost.

Deadly sea route

More than 3,000 migrants have died this year alone, trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea in flimsy smugglers’ boats, the IOM report found. That figure accounts for 75 percent of the more than 4,000 migrant deaths registered worldwide so far this year.

The agency attributed the surge in deaths to the growing conflict in the Middle East and chaos across North and West Africa.

IOM spokesman Joel Millman said the smuggling market is sensitive to external forces and smugglers take advantage of that by inducing vulnerable migrants to put their lives in their hands.

“These smuggler organizations obviously respond to deep, deep changes in the security situation of the sender countries," Millman said.

"When Syria got even worse this year with [the Islamic State group] taking over parts of the country, that is when you started seeing a lot more Syrians on these boats. And, the 51-day conflict with Gaza, when the cease-fire finally came, that is when you started seeing a lot of Palestinians coming," he said, adding, "The breakdown of authority in Libya [also] created an opportunity.”

Millman said the going rate for a voyage across the Mediterranean Sea is between $2,000 and $4,000 a person.

“We hear things like half-a-million-dollar voyages where organizations can expect that kind of profit from moving several hundred migrants across a very short voyage," he said.

A profit of $500,000 is the amount IOM estimated smugglers made from the ship they deliberately rammed off the coast of Malta earlier this month, killing an estimated 500 migrants, including 100 children.

Only 11 people are known to have survived that deadly shipwreck. The ship was carrying Syrian, Palestinian, Egyptian and Sudanese migrants.

US-Mexico border deaths

Since 2000, IOM records showed nearly 6,000 migrant deaths occurred along the U.S.-Mexico border and another 3,000 deaths from such diverse migration routes as Africa’s Sahara Desert and the waters of the Indian Ocean.

The IOM said the true number of fatalities worldwide is likely to be much higher than the data show.

The report said some experts believe for every dead body discovered there are at least two others never recovered.

The IOM also called for an end to what it calls “an epidemic of crime and victimization,” by smugglers and traffickers who prey on desperate, vulnerable people.

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