Mediterranean deaths reach record high in 2016

The number of people who have drowned while attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Europe in 2016 has reached a record of more than 5,000 people. In sharp contrast, the number of refugees reaching Europe had decreased by two-thirds, especially after the closing of the eastern Mediterranean routes.

The number of 5,000 victims was reached when two boats sank near the Italian coast close to Sicily on 22 December 2016. The Italian Coast Guard were unable to save about 100 of the 257 occupants of the two dinghies.

Speaking about the tragedy, UNHCR spokesman William Spindler had said that in 2016 an average of 14 people had died every day while attempting to cross the Mediterranean in search of safety or a better life in Europe.

According to the UNHCR statement, the quality of boats used by smugglers has been deteriorating and tactics used by smugglers trying to avoid detection have worsened the situation. Smugglers in 2016 had begun sending too many boats simultaneously to avoid capture, which has made rescue efforts harder and caused more deaths.

The increase in Mediterranean deaths had occurred despite a sharp decrease in the number of migrants reaching Europe. In 2015 about 1 million people reached Europe, mostly through the eastern Mediterranean route, but this went down to less than 360,000 in 2016, according to data from the International Organisation for Migration(IOM).

The number of victims who drowned in the Mediterranean in 2016 is up by more than a third when compared to 2014 and 2015. More than 3,770 refugees lost their lives on the Mediterranean in 2015 and about 3,280 in 2014. When compared to the number of migrants, it has been more than three times more likely for migrants to die last year than it was in the two preceding years.

The actual number of deaths is estimated to be much higher than the reported number of victims. IOM believes that many deaths on the western Mediterranean route from Morocco to Spain are rarely reported. In addition to deaths at sea, the accounted number of migrants who died on the Sahara while moving towards the Mediterranean reached at least 1100 in 2016.