The death toll of those attempting to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean over the past year is a third greater than it has been in any other year, according to the United Nations.
More than 90 migrants are feared to be dead after the two most recent boats known to have sunk between Lybia and Sicily this past Thursday were reported by the UN on Thursday. These two incidents raised the number of migrants killed in 2016 while attempting the dangerous journey to over 5,000. In 2015, the number was 3,771 migrant deaths.
A spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency, William Spindler, commented on the record-breaking toll, stating, “This is the worst annual death toll ever seen.” He also noted that 14 people, on average, had drowned in the Mediterranean every day this year.
It’s been reported that at least 55 people and possibly as many as 70 drowned when 120 to 140 people crammed into a rubber dingy which collapsed and sent passengers into the frigid waters. Forty people are also said to be missing after a second boat sank attempting to make the journey.
The same day that both vessels sunk also saw the coastguard bringing 264 people ashore, rescuing them from two other vessels, as Spindler shares.
This latest death toll highlights how dangerous the conditions are that migrants are facing as they attempt to flee their home nations that are overrun by war, economic hardship, and lacking in basic necessities such as food and water. The number of deaths continues to rise even though the number of people making the journey has declined over the year.
— New York Times World (@nytimesworld) December 23, 2016
Mr. Spindler spoke of the perilous journey attempted by so many.
“As of Wednesday, 358,403 people had made it to Europe after crossing the Mediterranean this year, down from more than a million last year. The rising fatality figure attested to the declining seaworthiness of the boats provided by traffickers and to changes in their tactics, Mr. Spindler said.”
Dangers are heightened when rubber dinghies used for the voyages and that are only designed to carry 20 to 30 people are packed with over 100. Smugglers attempt to avoid detection resort to voyages with unsafe numbers in the small vessels, sending large numbers of people at the same time and making the work of the coast guard and rescue services much more difficult.
It is evident that the number of shipwrecks and deaths are a reflection of poor conditions of boats that the migrants are using to travel, in addition to harsh weather conditions, IOM Rome spokesperson Flavio Di Giacomo states.
“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.
— Open Migration (@open_migration) December 20, 2016
It is unclear as to the number of refugees that actually believe they will make it across the vast body of water on rickety rafts and over-packed dinghies. It’s thought by members of the IOM that many are instead intending to search for a rescue crew in the international waters that will bring them to safety in the midst of the journey, knowing full well that the vessels used will not make the entire distance.
The founder of LifeBoat, a Malta-based nonprofit organization, Susanne Salm Hain, shared the reality that is often looked over, as USA Today notes.
“What people sometimes get wrong is the judgment about motivation why people are fleeing. Their idea is not to go to Europe. Their idea is just to go anywhere where they can live.”
The nations of the Mediterranean remain the best options for those fleeing war-torn nations and nations experiencing an economic downturn.
[Featured Image by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]