U.N.: 5,000 Migrants Died In Sea Crossings In 2016

By Jason Slotkin NPR

More than 5,000 migrants have died crossing the Mediterranean this year, marking a record high, the U.N. and monitoring agencies report.

The latest estimates include 100 people believed to have drowned following a shipwreck Thursday, the U.N. Refugee Agency says in a statement.

“The causes for the alarming increase in deaths this year are multiple but appear to be related to the declining quality of the vessels used by people smugglers, the vagaries of the weather and the tactics used by smugglers to avoid detection by the authorities. These include sending large numbers of embarkations simultaneously, which makes the work of rescuers more difficult,” the statement reads.

As we reported in October, U.N. Officials warned that 2016 would go down as a particularly deadly year for migrant crossings. So far, nearly 360,000 migrants have reached Europe by sea, often coming ashore in Italy or Greece, the International Organization for Migration says. More than 175,000 arrived in Italy alone, a 19 percent increase in crossings compared to the same period last year.

In a statement, spokesmen for IOM’s Rome operations, Flavio Di Giacomo mentions instability in Libya as contributing to the surge:

“‘This tragedy reminds us that the humanitarian emergency involving thousands of people dying while trying to flee Libya is not over,’ said Di Giacomo. ‘In 2016 the number of arrivals by sea in Italy has kept growing, but the number of migrants dying is up dramatically: over 5,000 people have died in 2016, compared to 3,777 deaths registered in the same period last year. That is nearly more than 2,000 more than in 2014, another year when over 3,000 men, women and children were lost on this dangerous passage.’

“Di Giacomo explained that the number of shipwrecks reflects the poor state of the boats used by the migrants, compounded by harsh weather conditions at sea in this season.

“‘We are seeing more migrants crossing this winter. This trend confirms the fact that conditions in Libya are becoming increasingly dangerous for migrants, who are often trying to flee the country in order to save their lives,’ he said.”

On the latest shipwreck, the U.N. Says:

“In two separate incidents rubber dinghies collapsed and passengers fell into the sea, the Italian Coastguard reported. The first dinghy was carrying between 120 and 140 people including many women and children. Only 63 people survived after the dinghy collapsed and passengers fell into the water. The second dinghy was carrying about 120 people and 80 were rescued by the Coastguard.

“Around 175 people were successfully rescued from another dinghy and a wooden boat. The Coastguard disembarked 264 people last night in Trapani, Sicily. Eight bodies were also recovered during the operations.”

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