The International Organization for Migration reports nearly 3,000 refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe have died so far this year. Most of these deaths have occurred along the dangerous route from North Africa to Italy.
This is the earliest that reported deaths on the Mediterranean have reached 3,000 since the migration crisis hit Europe four years ago. In 2014, reported fatalities reached the 3,000 person mark in September. Last year, it was in October.
Refugees and migrants from Eritrea, Mali, Bangladesh and other countries wait on board a dinghy to be rescued in the Mediterranean Sea, 27 kilometers (17 miles) north of Sabratha, Libya, July 19, 2016.
IOM spokesman Joel Millman said having such a large number of migrants perish before the end of July this year is alarming. “It is also very important to note that we are approaching the 250,000 arrival mark…Last year, we did not hit 3,000 until almost a million people had come. So, to have 3,000 with a quarter that number is an indicator of how lethal this passage has been,” he said.
Millman said refugee and migrant flows from Turkey to Greece have almost disappeared. So, he noted most of the sea traffic and fatalities are now occurring among sub-Saharan Africans making the perilous journey from North Africa to Italy.
He told VOA about 20 migrants are dying every day in the Mediterranean Sea. He said IOM staff is talking to the Libyan coast guard about the dangers facing people who board smugglers’ boats. “The coast guard has had some luck turning back voyages from Libya. We have heard in the last six weeks a number of cases where they have been able to turn boats back. They are also recovering bodies at an alarming rate as well. So, we…have mixed feelings calling that a success,” he stated.
IOM runs an assisted voluntary return and reintegration program for migrants in Libya. Millman said the agency has succeeded in repatriating thousands of stranded migrants to their homes in sub-Saharan Africa.