Mediterranean migrant deaths on the rise despite increased rescue efforts
TMP – 24/02/2017
Migrant deaths on the central Mediterranean route have been steadily rising since the end of last year in comparison to previous years, despite an increase in the number of rescue ships.
A recent report by Frontex, the EU border and coast guard agency, entitled “Risk analysis for 2017” says that the increase in rescue efforts are encouraging smugglers to put more migrants at risk of drowning.
The report suggests that “dangerous crossings on unseaworthy and overloaded vessels were organized with the main purpose of being detected,” and migrants embarking on the dangerous journeys were “aware of and rely on humanitarian assistance to reach the EU.”
EU authorities face a “sad paradox,” Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri said on 15 February. As efforts to send more rescue ships close to Libya increase, more people are dying as unscrupulous smugglers who rely on rescue ships to pick up stranded migrants pack increasingly more and more people on unseaworthy plastic dinghies or wooden fishing boats.
“Apparently, all parties involved in (search and rescue) operations in the Central Mediterranean unintentionally help criminals achieve their objectives at minimum cost, strengthen their business model by increasing the chances of success,” the report said.
Leggeri said the fact that there were around 4,500 deaths in 2016 is “tragic and the reasons are well known: the number of migrants now (arriving) on very small dinghies.”
The Frontex report said smugglers have grown more bold and reckless, knowing that rescue boats will be right on the edge of Libya’s territorial waters.
“A year or two ago, they were taking place halfway between Libya and Italy. Now it’s in Libyan waters, very close to the Libyan shore.”
There have been at least 228 deaths on the route from Libya to Italy in January this year, the biggest total for the month in recent years.
The EU says 70% of people coming to Europe through the central Mediterranean from Africa are not fleeing conflict or oppressive regimes and are unlikely to be granted asylum once they reach Europe.