‘Policy-made crisis’ makes 2016 deadliest year for Mediterranean crossings

Médecins Sans Frontières rescue operation in Mediterranean.

Marking a grim milestone, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has reported that 2016 is the deadliest year ever for migrants trying to reach Europe.

The agency said on October 26 that at least 3800 migrants — many of them fleeing war in their home countries — have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean Sea this year. This is despite a significant drop in attempted crossings compared to last year.

“From one death for every 269 arrivals last year, in 2016 the likelihood of dying has spiraled to one in 88,” UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler said.

Spindler attributed the spike in deaths to factors including bad weather, “a more perilous route”, the use of “lower-quality vessels”, and smugglers’ changing tactics.

Reuters reported: “Since the European Union-Turkey deal in March to close down pathways to Greece, the Libya to Italy route across the central Mediterranean has become the main route.

“One per every 47 migrants or refugees attempting the voyage between Libya and Italy is dying,’ the UNHCR’s Spindler said.

“‘Smuggling has become a big business, it’s being done almost on an industrial scale. So now they send several boats at the same time and that puts rescue services in difficulty because they need to rescue several thousand people on several hundred boats,’ he said.”

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) manager of migration operations Stefano Argenziano said on October 26: “The past weeks have been horrific, with our rescue teams and other boats involved in almost continuous rescues and far too many men, women, and children dying.

“Sea rescue operations are becoming a race through a maritime graveyard and our rescue teams are overwhelmed by a policy-made crisis where we feel powerless to stop the loss of life.”

[Abridged from Common Dreams.]