A record number of migrants have died crossing the Mediterranean this year, new figures have revealed, prompting aid agencies to call on Europe to do even more to help those making the crossing.
2,899 migrants died in attempts to cross the Mediterranean between January and June of this year, the International Organisation for Migration has reported. The figure represents a 50 percent increase on the 1,838 deaths recorded for the same period last year, setting 2016 on track for becoming a record-breaking year in terms of migrant deaths.
According to the UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, whose figures correlate closely with those of the IOM, a total of 3,771 people drowned in the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe last year.
But despite the grisly total, aid agency workers believe the flow of people from the Middle East and Africa into Europe will not stop, leading to demands that Europe devote even more resources to helping those wishing to move northwards.
“Migrants continue making the perilous journey at great risk, travelling under precarious conditions and on ill-equipped boats, leaving them highly vulnerable to both the arduous travel and to the exploitation of organized criminal networks along the way,” said IOM Libya Chief of Mission Othman Belbeisi.
His colleague Joel Millman, a spokesman for the IOM called the figure “really alarming,” saying: “Europe’s done a remarkable job, they’ve saved thousands of lives this year alone. But almost 3,000 people dead means they’re not doing everything that needs to be done.”
Despite the billions being spent by European governments and the EU, hundreds of thousands of migrants have flowed into Europe, lured by the promise of easy asylum, plentiful work and government benefits.
The IOM puts the total figure at 233,796 in 2016, the vast majority of which – some 225,747 – arrived by sea. The figure correlates closely to the 230,226 arrivals by sea recorded by the UNHCR, although the discrepancy between the figures highlights the difficulties in keeping track of such a large movement of people.
Demographically, men continue to dominate. The UNHCR records that just under half (49 percent) of arrivals into Europe are men, but anecdotal figures suggest the proportion is far higher.
According to figures cited by Belbeisi, in just four days in June the Libyan coastguard rescued more than 2500 migrants from vessels, mostly near Az Zawiyah. Yet just a fraction were female.
On the 24th June five boats carrying 1000 migrants were rescued – just 29 of the passengers were female. The following day another 1000 migrants were rescued; 180 were female. And two days later a boat was picked up outside Tajoura carrying 267 migrants; again just 46 were female.
On Thursday, an Italian coastguard ship rescued 107 people from a partially submerged dingy about 20 miles from the Libyan coastline. The bodies of ten women were recovered from the scene.