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For migrants, sea crossings 3 times more deadly in 2016 than previous year

2016 is the deadliest in history for migrants who attempt to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe, according to UNHCR, the U.N.’s refugee agency, with those who attempt the trip being more than three times as likely to die in 2016 than they were in 2015. 

On Tuesday, the number of people who died this year trying to reach Europe reached 3,800, surpassing last year’s total. Attempted sea crossings numbered only a third of last year’s total, however, meaning the risk of fatality was exponentially heightened in 2016.

U.N. Radio said 3,7771 lives were lost in 2015, previously the highest number of recorded deaths.
“This is the worst we have seen,” said William Spindler, head of the UNHCR, at a press briefing Tuesday in Geneva, Switzerland.231015-migrants-greece
“The high loss of life comes despite a large overall fall this year in the number of people seeking to cross the Mediterranean to Europe… From one death for every 269 arrivals last year, in 2016 the likelihood of dying has spiraled to one in 88,” Spindler said.
For those crossing the central Mediterranean route between Libya and Italy, said Spindler, the likelihood of dying is even higher, with one death for every 47 arrivals. Migrants who depart from Libya have the highest rate of death in the Mediterranean of any country.
 
The lack of a well-organized central government and its extensive smuggling networks make Libya a popular departure point for many North Africans who wish to leave for Europe, regardless of their country of origin.
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.
“Smuggling has become a big business; it’s being done almost on an industrial scale,” said Spindler. “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.”
Spindler added that one out of every 47 people attempting the crossing from North Africa has died.
Last year, however, when a route to Greece was relatively more accessible, one in 269 attempts were fatal.
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.Syrian migrants cross under a fence as they enter Hungary at the border with Serbia, near Roszke
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.

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