Killed by People Smugglers: UN Says Migrant Drownings Double This Year

AT SEA - MARCH 29: Migrants of different nationalities aboard a wooden boat before being rescued by the NGO Open Arms on March 29, 2021 in At Sea, Unspecified. The Spanish NGO Open Arms rescued passengers in two wooden boats, with 84 and 97 people respectively. The Open Arms vessel …
Carlos Gil/Getty Images

In the first six months of this year, at least 1,146 people have drowned in the Mediterranean as people smugglers resume operations to ‘help’ migrants illegally cross the sea to Europe.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has released a report stating that the number of people who have died attempting to reach Europe by sea in the first six months of 2021 is double that of the first six months of last year.

The IOM notes that the central Mediterranean route between Libya and Italy saw the most reported deaths so far this year at 741 people. While on the route between West Africa and the Spanish Canary Islands, 250 people drowned, the Associated Press reports.

The news agency states that this is just the reported number of confirmed drownings and claims that the actual number could be far higher as shipwrecks can either not be reported, or it can be hard to pin down exact details.

Frontex, the European Union border agency, notes that illegal migration to the EU has increased by 59 per cent in the first six months of this year and stated that much of the attempts to illegally enter Europe via the central Mediterranean can be explained by an increase in people smuggling activity.

Just weeks ago, people smugglers led at least seven women to their deaths off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa, one of them pregnant. Another ten migrants, including children, were reported missing after the initial shipwreck as well.

Since 2014, around 19,000 people have died while crossing the seas to reach Europe, often on unseaworthy boats provided by traffickers in return for large sums of money.

Sometimes, people smugglers travel onboard boats with the migrants themselves. But in one case earlier this year near the Greek island of Othonoi, the smugglers abandoned 17 illegal migrants in the middle of the sea after their stolen boat had been damaged.

The 17 migrants were later rescued by the Greek coastguard, who had been searching for the stolen boat, which had been stolen just days before from the port of Agios Stefanos on the island of Corfu.

Follow Chris Tomlinson on Twitter at @TomlinsonCJ or email at ctomlinson(at)


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