Migrant Drownings Up As Smugglers Come To Rely On Rescue Vessels

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Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

The number of migrants deaths in the Mediterranean has increased sharply this year, even as the overall number of migrants making the risky trip has fallen.

The figures have been highlighted in a report by Amnesty International on human rights around the globe, which notes: “At the end of December, around 358,000 refugees and migrants had made the crossing into Europe.

“There was a modest increase in numbers taking the central Mediterranean route (up to around 170,000), but a sharp decline in numbers arriving on the Greek islands (down from 854,000 to 173,000), owing almost entirely to the migration control deal between EU and Turkey agreed in March.

“The International Organization for Migration estimated that a record 5,000 people died at sea compared to around 3,700 last year.”

No reasons for the increased death rate have been advanced by Amnesty, who have chosen to focus instead on chastising European leaders for their lack of “solidarity” with the migrants.

“We are witnessing the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War and wealthy nations like the UK and the US have shown an appalling lack of leadership and responsibility,” said Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK. “History will judge us for this.”

However, according to Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri, “the reasons [for the increase in deaths] are well known: the number of migrants now [arriving] on very small dinghies.”

Frontex’s ‘Risk analysis for 2017’ report, released last week, indicated that increased rescue efforts by European nations were driving the increased death rates, as smugglers were being emboldened to use ever less seaworthy craft, relying on rescue vessels to carry their human cargo to Europe.

“The increasing number of migrant deaths […] seems paradoxical at first glance,” the report noted. “The rising death toll mainly results from criminal activities aimed at making profit through the provision of smuggling services at any cost. Libya-based smuggling groups became emboldened organising dangerous crossings on a daily basis using dilapidated vessels.”

“Dangerous crossings on unseaworthy and overloaded vessels were organised with the main purpose of being detected by [rescue] vessels. Apparently, all parties involved in SAR [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.

“Migrants and refugees – encouraged by the stories of those who had successfully made it in the past – attempt the dangerous crossing since they are aware of and rely on humanitarian assistance to reach the EU.”

The bodies of at least 74 people, believed to be migrants, were found washed ashore on the Libyan coast on Tuesday, according to reports. The migrants’ boat appeared to have been deliberately set adrift as it was missing its engine.

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