The percentage of migrants who have died attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea into Europe has risen sharply in 2017 according to new data from the International Organization for Migration.
So far this year, 655 migrants have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean, which represents 2.4 percent of the total number who have attempted the perilous crossing. During the whole of 2016, the percentage of migrants who died in the Mediterranean was 1.4 percent, meaning that this year has seen a spike of nearly 42 per cent.
More remarkably still, Mediterranean migrant deaths have accounted for more than half (57 per cent) of all migrant deaths worldwide in 2017, which have totaled 1,157 as of March 28.
In the first quarter of 2017, a total of 26,589 migrants have successfully crossed the Mediterranean into Europe, mostly departing from North Africa and landing in Italy.
According to recent reports, a number of humanitarian organizations and NGOs are coming under fire for effectively providing a taxi service for migrants, picking them up off the coast of Libya and shuttling them straight to Italy, despite the fact that international agreements would have them take the migrants to the nearest port.
Last week, an Italian public prosecutor called for monitoring of the funding of NGOs engaged in rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea, because of their close collusion with the human traffickers behind much of the local immigration business.
The remarks of the chief prosecutor of Catania (Sicily) followed closely on the release of a report by Frontex, the border control agency of the European Union (EU), suggesting that NGOs have been complicit with human traffickers by offering a shuttle service from North Africa to Italy.
NGOs engaged in maritime rescue operations “help criminals achieve their objectives at minimum cost, strengthen their business model by increasing the chances of success,” the report said.
The Italian prosecutor, Carmelo Zuccaro, said that whether or not the organizations in question are operating out of philanthropic motives, “the facilitation of illegal immigration is a punishable offense regardless of the intention.”
A week ago, senior British diplomat Joseph Walker-Cousins accused the EU of doing “too little, too late” to address Europe’s ongoing migrant crisis.
Testifying before the House of Lords’ EU External Affairs Sub-Committee, the former head of the British Embassy in Benghazi warned that “up to a million migrants, if not more, are in the pipeline. They will take a long time to work their way through that pipeline but it is well-established.”
In a recent address, Pope Francis called Europe’s migrant crisis “the greatest tragedy since the Second World War.”
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