By Editor-June 28th, 2023.
Researchers at the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration (IOM) have now estimated the number of migrants who have died at sea this year while trying to reach Europe nearly 2,000.
The number of people who lose their lives each year in the crossing is huge, and this year is on track to be even worse than last year. These are some of the reasons why this year has become so deadly:
Hundreds died aboard the Adriana.
According to IOM data, at least 1,999 migrants died between January 1 and June 26 of this year, mostly from drowning. In the same period last year, 1,358 died. These tallies include those who died in the three major routes across the Mediterranean, as well as at the Atlantic route from West Africa.
One enormous tragedy accounts for a large portion of the uptick: the capsizing of the fishing boat Adriana two weeks ago in deep waters off the coast of Greece. The boat had departed Libya crammed with hundreds of people. When it capsized, it took the lives of most of the migrants on board, and IOM now estimates the number who perished at 596.
More people are attempting the crossing
Another factor is that the overall number of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean is higher than it was last year.
Italy in particular has seen a significant increase in the number of migrants arriving: more than 60,000 so far this year, compared with fewer than 27,000 at this point last year. IOM estimates that the total arrivals of migrants by sea to Mediterranean Europe are more than 82,000 this year, compared to fewer than 49,000 by this time last year.
Many of the migrant boats are aiming for the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, which sits about halfway between Tunisia and Sicily. Two flows of migrants are now arriving at Lampedusa: those from Tunisia and those from Libya. Last week, 37 migrants went missing after their boat capsized between Tunisia and Lampedusa.
Migrants are traveling on boats not made for high seas
A new type of vessel has been departing Tunisia since October: boats made of iron.
These boats are prone to breaking and can capsize very easily. “The iron boats are the most fragile boats we have even seen in the Mediterranean,” Flavio di Giacomo, spokesperson for IOM Italy, tells NPR.
“This is the first time I’m seeing migrants arrive in such bad condition from Tunisia,” he says. “They arrive wet, without shoes, and exhausted. They arrive barefoot because there’s water inside the boat.”
The Libyan route has long been more dangerous than the Tunisian route, because it’s farther. But with the use of iron boats, the Tunisian route has become much riskier than before.
Help from authorities is slow to arrive, and aid groups that help may be prosecuted
After the Adriana capsized, the Greek coast guard said it had not intervened because the Adriana had been progressing en route to Italy and did not need rescuing. But a BBC investigation found evidence that the boat had hardly moved for seven hours before it sank.
Di Giacomo says European coast guards are slow to intervene because it is not a priority for their governments. “These migrant boats don’t meet the minimum requirement to sail at high seas, because they could capsize. So they should be saved immediately,” he says. “[The coast guards] are not respecting the law of the sea.”
Sources: NPR, BBC, news agencies.