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EXPLANATION: Fewer people cross the Mediterranean; many still die

ROME — The back-to-back sinkings of migrant smuggler boats off the coast of Greece have once again shed light on the dangers of the Mediterranean migration route, the risks migrants and refugees are willing to take and the political wrangling that has taken place. thwarted a safe European response to people fleeing war, poverty and climate change.

Here is an overview of the migration situation through the Mediterranean Sea:


Bodies floated amid splintered wreckage off a Greek island on Thursday as the death toll in separate sinkings of two migrant boats rose to 22, with a dozen others missing. The ships sank hundreds of miles apart, in one case sparking a dramatic overnight rescue effort as island residents and firefighters pulled shipwrecked migrants to safety on steep cliffs.

The Greek shipwrecks came just days after Italy commemorated the ninth anniversary of one of the deadliest Mediterranean shipwrecks in recent memory, the October 3, 2013 sinking of a migrant ship off Lampedusa, Spain. Sicily, in which 368 people died.


So far this year, the International Organization for Migration has recorded around 109,000 “irregular” arrivals to the Mediterranean countries of Italy, Spain, Greece, Cyprus and Malta by land or sea. This has made immigration a hot political topic in these European Union countries.

UN refugee officials note that the total number of migrants seeking to come to Europe in this way has declined over the years, averaging around 120,000 a year. They call that a relatively “manageable” number, especially compared to the 7.4 million Ukrainians who fled their homeland this year to escape invading Russia, and were taken in by European countries.

“We have seen how quickly a response has been mounted to deal with this situation in a very humane and commendable way,” said Shabia Mantoo, spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency in Geneva. “If we can see this happening very concretely in this situation, why can’t it be applied to 120,000 people crossing Europe every year?”

Others see Europe’s harsh response to Mediterranean migrants, who often come from Africa, and its welcome of Slavic Ukrainian migrants as racist.


So far this year, IOM has reported 1,522 dead or missing migrants in the Mediterranean. Overall, the IOM says 24,871 migrants have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean since 2014, with the actual number even higher given the number of shipwrecks that go unreported.

“The trip to Italy turned out to be the most dangerous,” said the ISMU foundation in Italy, which conducts research on migration trends.

The Central Mediterranean migratory route that takes migrants from Libya or Tunisia to northern Europe is the deadliest known migratory route in the world, accounting for more than half of reported deaths in the Mediterranean that IOM followed since 2014. Italy is his route. destination of choice.


On April 18, 2015, the deadliest known shipwreck in living memory in the Mediterranean occurred when an overcrowded fishing boat collided 77 nautical miles off the coast of Libya with a cargo ship trying to come to his help. Only 28 people survived. At first it was feared that the hull contained the remains of 700 people. Forensic experts who tried to identify all of the dead concluded in 2018 that there were originally 1,100 people on board.

On October 3, 2013, a trawler loaded with more than 500 people, many from Eritrea and Ethiopia, caught fire and capsized within sight of an uninhabited islet off the island of Lampedusa in southern Italy. Local fishermen rushed to try to help save lives. In the end, 155 survived and 368 people died.

A week later, a shipwreck occurred on October 11, 2013, further out to sea, 60 miles south of Lampedusa in what became known in Italy as the “child massacre”. In total, more than 260 people died, including 60 children. The Italian weekly L’Espresso in 2017 published the audio recordings of the migrants’ desperate pleas for help and Italian and Maltese authorities apparently delayed the rescue.


The Western Mediterranean route is used by migrants seeking to reach Spain from Morocco or Algeria. The Eastern Mediterranean route, where shipwrecks occurred this week off Greece, is traditionally used by Syrian, Iraqi, Afghan and other non-African migrants fleeing first to Turkey and then trying to reach the Greece or other European destinations.

Greece was a key transit point for hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees entering the EU in 2015-2016, many fleeing wars in Iraq and Syria, although numbers fell sharply after the EU and Turkey reached an agreement in 2016 to limit smugglers. Greece has since hardened its borders and built a wall of steel along its land border with Turkey. Greece has also been accused by Turkey and some migration experts of pushing back migrants, a charge it denies.

For its part, Greece claims that Turkey has failed to stop smugglers active on its coastline and has used the migrants to exert political pressure on the whole of the European Union.


Mediterranean countries have complained for years about having to bear the brunt of welcoming and treating migrants, and have long called on other European countries to step in and welcome them.

Poland, Hungary and other Eastern European countries have refused an EU plan to share the burden of transporting migrants.

Human rights groups have condemned the way the EU has in recent years entrusted the rescue of migrants to the Libyan coast guard, which brings migrants back to horrific camps on land where many are beaten, raped and abused.

“Over the years the routes have changed but the tragedies have not,” said the Community of Sant’Egidio as it commemorated Lampedusa’s 2013 anniversary this week. Together with other Christian groups, the Catholic charity has brought more than 5,000 refugees to Italy through “humanitarian corridors” and called for safer crossings to be organized so that migrants do not have to risk dangerous crossings of the Mediterranean with smugglers.

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