UN: Migrant, refugee death toll in Mediterranean exceeds 1,000

More than 1,000 migrants and refugees died in the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach Europe in 2019, the sixth year in a row the death toll is being reached, United Nations’ International Organization for Migration (IMO) has said.

This comes barely a week after Rwanda received 66 African refugees and asylum-seekers who had been detained in Libya.

In a statement on Tuesday, IMO confirmed 994 men, women and children had died in the Mediterranean attempting to cross into Europe.

This is in an addition to an incident off Morocco that killed tens of migrants whose rubber boat capsized off the country’s Atlantic coast.

“IOM is trying to confirm reports of as many as 40 migrants lost in that shipwreck,” the statement reads in part.

The organisation reported that, as of September 29, 659 migrants or refugees have perished on the Central Mediterranean route linking the coasts of Africa to Italian territorial waters, or almost two-thirds of the total number of Mediterranean deaths recorded thus far in 2019.

Another 66 victims have been reported on the Mediterranean’s Eastern route, linking Turkey and Syrian coasts to waters off Greece and Cyprus.

IOM reported another 269 deaths in the waters between North Africa and Spain.

For a year now, Italy has reportedly blocked humanitarian boats that have been ferrying refugees and migrants to European nations. The Italian government has, at some point, went further to threaten to detain crews of rescue ships.

Rwanda offered to host the refugees following reports that they were exposed to beatings, sexual violence and torture in Libya by Libyan EU-trained coastguards.

A few weeks ago, the country reached a deal with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the African Nations to host up to 500 refugees and asylum-seekers.

Already, a group of 66 asylum-seekers is  in Rwanda and is being hosted at the Gashora Transit Centre in Eastern Province, where they are currently receiving emergency services like shelter, medical care, food and other basic services.

Leonard Doyle, IMO Spokesperson, said in a statement that amid a “rising tide of anti-migrant sentiment in our politics worldwide, this shocking figure of nearly 1000 deaths is due in some measure to a hardening attitude and outright hostility towards migrants fleeing violence and poverty.”

“This carnage at sea pains us all. It also shames us all,” he noted.

The Mediterranean Sea crossing remains the deadliest known migration route worldwide, pointing to the fact that safe alternatives are urgently needed for migrants seeking a better life. 

IMO researchers noted that over 2,300 deaths on the Central Mediterranean route, one of the three migratory routes, have been recorded since the start of 2018, despite a drastic drop in the total number of migrants and refugees on that corridor.

So far, in 2019, barely 7,000 migrants arrived in Italy via that route, in addition to the 23,370 in 2018, plus nearly another 7,000 intercepted at sea and returned to Libya. 

As of Tuesday, IOM said it recorded at least 596 deaths of migrants along migratory corridors in the Americas, putting 2019 on track to be the fastest to 600 known deaths since IOM began recording these statistics in 2014. 

In three of the six years since IOM began counting deaths during migration – 2014, 2015 and 2018 – 600 deaths were not recorded during the entire year. 

In 2016, when 729 migrant deaths were recorded in the Americas, the 600 mark was not reached until October 24.

In 2017, a year when 680 migrants died in transit, the 600 mark was reached on December 19.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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