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Explained: Mediterranean, the sea of death

Over 1,750 have drowned in the Mediterranean this year, and the final toll could be 30,000. What makes this Sea so deadly?

Updated: April 23, 2015 8:35:43 am
Mediterranean sea, Mediterranean sea deaths, Mediterranean sea smugglers, Mediterranean migrants, migrants drown Mediterranean, Mediterranean migrants drown, Mediterranean boat accident, Libya migrants drown, Mediterranean smugglers accident, Libya migrants accident, migrants drown Mediterranean, Mediterranean boat tragedy, Boat sinking Mediterranean, Migrants boat drown, Mediterranean sea accident, International news, world news Rescued migrants at Lampedusa island, southern Italy, last week. (Source: AP) / (Data Source: IOM, January 1 to April 17, 2015)

Q: How many people have died in the Mediterranean Sea this year?

The Geneva-based International Organisation for Migration, the world’s principal intergovernmental organisation tracking migration issues and migrants, said on Tuesday that over 1,750 people had perished in the Mediterranean since the beginning of 2015 — which is roughly 16 human lives lost on average every day of this year. Last year, up to mid-April, 56 people had been killed, and though the toll shot up in subsequent months, taking the year’s total to a record 3,279, the IOM fears that peak could be scaled in weeks. “Our projection is that… somewhere around 30,000 (could be) dying in the Mediterranean this year,” IOM’s Deputy Director General Laura Thompson told the AFP news agency.


Q: Where are the victims from? Why do they undertake this perilous voyage?

Based on profiles of groups reaching Italy — where an overwhelming majority of boats reach — most migrants are from Syria and conflict-ridden African countries, besides some Palestinians. According to Volker Turk of UNHCR, “over 50 per cent of the people who crossed the Mediterranean were people in need of international protection”. According to Italian government data, some 170,000 migrants reached its shores in 2014. The largest group were Syrians (over 36%); and Syrians and Eritreans together made up two-thirds of all migrants. The Syrian civil war has raged for 4 years now; Eritrea has been, since independence 22 years ago, a dictatorship with alleged widespread torture and forced conscriptions. After Syrians and Eritreans, the next biggest groups to arrive in Italy last year were Malians, Nigerians and Gambians. Men outnumbered women by far among the migrants who reached Italy.

mediteranian 2Q: How do the migrant groups make the journey across the Mediterranean? 

By small, dangerously overcrowded boats. Migrants have told European authorities that human smugglers collect them in so-called “connection houses” in Libya before putting them in the boats. The migration racket is run by transnational traffickers who function in the manner of mafia gangs, with suspected links to Italian organised crime. According to some estimates, the Mediterranean human trafficking business could be worth up to 600 million euros (over Rs 4,000 crore) annually, and the business is likely to boom for as long as terrorised or persecuted people continue to be desperate to flee their countries. According to the European border agency Frontex, many original migrants have turned recruiters and smugglers themselves.

Q: What can European countries do to stop deaths or change this situation?

The government in Libya, the launchpad for migrant boats, has neither the will nor the capability to take on the smugglers. François Crépeau, UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, told The Guardian newspaper that European countries should work on a plan to take a million refugees from Syria over the next five years to end the disasters in the Mediterranean. He also said that by failing to act on Syria, Europe was actually sustaining the market for people smugglers. On Monday, European nations agreed on a 10-point action plan to address the situation, including reinforced maritime patrolling, a crackdown on people smugglers, better coordination among European nations to tackle smuggling, and engagement with countries surrounding Libya.

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