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Deaths Soar On Perilous Maritime Migration Routes To Europe


Deaths of migrants travelling by dangerous sea routes to
Europe have
soared
in the first six months of the year. At least
1,146 people died attempting to reach Europe by boat from
January to June, the UN migration agency, IOM said on
Wednesday.

That’s more than double the number of
deaths recorded over the same period last year and it
highlights how perilous
maritime migration routes
are from Africa to
Europe.

In an appeal to countries to respect
international human rights laws and obligations, IOM Director-General António
Vitorino
called for “urgent and proactive steps” to
reduce loss of life.

Increase search and
rescue

“Increasing search and rescue efforts,
establishing predictable disembarkation mechanisms and
ensuring access to safe and legal migration pathways are key
steps towards achieving this goal,” he said.

New
data from IOM’s Missing
Migrants Project
, highlighted that the spike in deaths
was coupled with insufficient search and rescue operations –
both in the Mediterranean and on the Atlantic Route to the
Canary Islands.

At least 741 people died on the
central Mediterranean route, while 149 people lost their
lives crossing the western Mediterranean, and six died on
the Eastern Mediterranean route from Turkey to
Greece.

In the same period, some 250 people drowned
attempting to reach Spain’s Canary Islands on the West
Africa/Atlantic route. However, that count may well be low,
according to the agency.

Invisible
wrecks

Hundreds of cases of “invisible
shipwrecks” have been reported by non-governmental
organizations (NGOs) in direct contact with those on board
or with their families.

Such cases, which are
extremely difficult to verify, indicate that deaths on
maritime routes to Europe are far higher than available data
show, IOM adds.

One example cited by the agency was
from 24 March, when Sohail Al Sagheer, a 22-year-old
Algerian rapper, went missing when he and nine friends left
from Oran, Algeria to Spain.

His family conducted a
frantic search for information about what happened to him,
torn with rumours that he was among the victims of a
shipwreck off Almería, Spain. Tragically, his remains were
finally recovered on 5 April, off the coast of Aïn
Témouchent, Algeria.

North Africa

The latest
data also show an increase for the second consecutive year
in North African States’ maritime operations in the central
route. More than 31,500 people were intercepted or rescued
by North African authorities in the first half of 2021,
compared to 23,117 in the first six months of
2020.

Such operations off the coast of Tunisia have
increased by 90 per cent in the first six months of 2021
compared to 2020. In addition, over 15,300 people were
returned to Libya in the first six months of 2021, almost
three times higher than the same period in 2020. This is
concerning given that many migrants who are returned to
Libya are subjected to arbitrary detention, extortion,
disappearances, and torture.

Gaps remain

The
briefing highlights the ongoing data gaps on irregular
maritime migration to Europe.

“IOM reiterates the
call on States to take urgent and proactive steps to reduce
loss of life on maritime migration routes to Europe and
uphold their obligations under international law,” said
the IOM Director General. “Increasing search and rescue
efforts, establishing predictable disembarkation mechanisms
and ensuring access to safe and legal migration pathways are
key steps towards achieving this
goal.”

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