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2015 Deadliest Year for Migrants Crossing Mediterranean

FILE - After more than 300 migrants died Friday trying to cross the Mediterranean, other migrants arrived by boat at the Sicilian harbor of Pozzallo, Italy, Feb.15, 2015.

International rights agencies said 2015 is shaping up to be the deadliest year for migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea. In the latest tragedy, the human rights group, Save the Children reports an estimated 400 people, many of them children, lost their lives in recent days while making the dangerous crossing from Libya to Italy.

The month of April is only half over and yet it has been extraordinary in terms of the number of people rescued at sea. Official figures indicate the Italian Coast Guard has picked up more than 7,000 migrants between April 10 and 13. Save the Children said some 450 of them are children - 317 unaccompanied by an adult.

Joel Millman, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, said so far about 8,000 people have been rescued in April. These numbers, he said, indicate the 2015 migrant smuggling season is in full swing.

“We are on pace to be well ahead of last year’s totals for all migrant arrivals from Africa into Italy and we are…in pace to be five times the rate of fatalities,” stated Millman. This past weekend, we passed 500 deaths on the Mediterranean of migrants leaving Africa. This time last year there were 47, although at the end of April 2014, that had grown to 96. So, we are at least five times the first four months of 2014’s rate.”

Millman said the tide of migration from Libya toward Italy is growing at a far more alarming and more deadly rate this year than last. He said many more migrants are fleeing Libya and making the precarious journey across the sea to escape the violent and crime-ridden conditions in that country.

“A lot of what we see are people who are part of the traditional work force that come up from West Africa to work in Libya. But, because it is difficult to remit money home and because there is just so much common crime in the streets of cities like Tripoli right now, they are afraid that they cannot keep their money, they cannot stay safe,” he added. “So, they are seeking a way to get out on these ships.”

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said at least 3,500 people drowned while attempting to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa in 2014. International humanitarian agencies predict that record number of deaths will be surpassed this year. They are calling on the European Union to step up action to stop this intolerable loss of life.

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