Traffickers often have little regard for the safety of their boats, and many of the vessels are barely seaworthy. The desperation of those leaving North Africa makes the job of smugglers easier.
“It appears that smugglers [on the Central Mediterranean route] are using low-quality vessels. Some are basically just inflatable rafts packed to the brim with people,” said Chris Boian, spokesman for the UNHCR.
The shift away from migrants attempting to reach Greece began earlier this year. A huge number of migrants had been entering Turkey, largely due to the Syrian Civil War. Many would then leave Turkey for one of several Greek islands, where they could then potentially go elsewhere in Europe. More than 1 million migrants reached Greece through Turkey between January 2015 and March 2016.
In March, Turkey and the European Union reached a deal
stipulating that immigrants who arrive in Greece would be returned to Turkey, where they could apply for asylum status. This acted as a deterrent for many who would attempt to enter Europe through Greece because of the problems of overcrowding and lack of resources in the refugee camps of Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. After the deal, the much shorter and safer Turkey-Greece route became less popular, redirecting potential sea crossers to the longer and more dangerous Central Mediterranean route.
“People are having to take a more dangerous route,” said Boian. “It’s that simple.”
He said that although weather is often worse in the central Mediterranean than in the Turkey-Greece route, distance is a much bigger factor in the heightened death count, with fuel shortages being a major concern.
More than 1,000 sea crossers died off the coast of Libya in a single week in May. The incident that resulted in 2016 surpassing last year’s total number of deaths happened Tuesday when a Doctors Without Borders rescue ship discovered an inflatable dinghy with 107 live passengers and 25 dead ones. On Monday, roughly 2,200 migrants were rescued in the central Mediterranean in a series of rescue missions. 16 bodies were found, but a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration
said that the actual toll was certainly much higher.