Italy - The series of tragedies last weekend in the Mediterranean marks one of the deadliest periods of 2014, with an estimated 230 migrants lost and presumed dead.
Witnesses described to IOM seeing the corpses of 18 African men in one craft that had to be abandoned Sunday 120 nautical miles from the Italian coastline, the same day after another 6 passengers drowned after a fishing boat capsized with some 370 migrants on board.
Earlier, on Saturday, about 200 migrants went missing during a shipwreck 32 nautical miles off the Libyan coasts.
“One more time, these tragic events show that something must be done to solve the problem of irregular immigration across the Mediterranean,” said IOM Director General William Lacy Swing.
“The obligation to save lives surpasses everything else. But rescue at sea is not the ultimate solution. Alternatives are needed: providing safe and legal entry into Europe; resettlement opportunities; family reunification; and voluntary return for economic migrants who do not need protection,” he added.
With this weekend’s deaths, IOM believes that as many as 1,800 migrants may have died trying to reach Italy from North Africa so far in 2014. That is compared to an estimated 700 during the whole of 2013.
The Italian Navy ship “Sirio” on Sunday rescued 73 migrants from a rubber dinghy and recovered the bodies of eighteen victims on the craft. Another eight migrants from that vessel reportedly remain missing.
“Migrants rescued from the dinghy—mainly sub-Saharan Africans—told IOM that they were forced onto the vessel. Some had been beaten by the smugglers,” said IOM Rome spokesperson Flavio Di Giacomo.
Fourteen hours after their departure, their dinghy started to take on water and its engine suffered a fuel leak. “Those who were in good shape left the boat to swim. Those who were severely injured stayed on board and died,” says Di Giacomo.
An Italian Navy helicopter patrolling the area threw down lifesaving jackets and life rafts, part of a weekend-long rescue effort in which Italian authorities saved about 4,000 migrants and asylum seekers.
The 108,000 migrants arriving in Italy by sea so far this year nearly triples 2013’s seaborne inflow, when the number of migrants reaching Italy from North Africa was 42,925. By contrast, some 60,000 came in 2011 during and after the Arab Spring.
“Some say the Mare Nostrum rescue policy is a pull factor that encourages more migrants to cross the sea because they know that there will be someone to receive them. But the reality is that there are more significant factors, including violence and increased hardship in both origin and transit countries. People are fleeing war, persecution and totalitarian regimes. Recent arrivals in Italy have included 14 Yazidis from Iraq and 180 Gazans,” says IOM Rome official Simona Moscarelli.
Eritrea and Syria are the two largest countries of origin for irregular migrants arriving in Italy by sea. In the first seven months of 2014, over 25,200 Eritreans and 16,240 Syrians arrived by boat, according to the Italian authorities. Other nationalities included Malians, Nigerians, Gambians and Somalis.
The current unrest and instability in Libya is also stimulating the deadly passage. Organized smuggling gangs are taking advantage of the growing number of migrants seeking flight. Victims say smugglers are becoming increasingly reckless, putting migrants aboard unsafe vessels without sufficient fuel and without life jackets.
“If the basic human rights of these people are to be protected, the international community must act together to crack down on these brutal smuggling networks and provide alternatives for these desperate people,” said Ambassador Swing.
For more information please contact
Flavio Di Giacomo
Tel. +39 347 089 89 96