An estimated 204 311 migrants and refugees had arrived in Europe this year via the Mediterranean Sea by May 30, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said.
Most, 156 364, arrived in Greece, IOM said. Other places of arrival were Italy (46 856), Spain (1063) and Cyprus (28).
A grimmer statistic was that the number of people who have died attempting the crossing is much higher than over the same period last year.
IOM said that, after a surge in reported shipwrecks and other incidents at sea in the past eight days, estimated deaths by May 30 2016 had risen to 2443 on all Mediterranean routes – a 34 per cent increase over the first five months of 2015.
This was a sharp change from a week earlier, IOM said, noting that it had said then that confirmed fatalities were 24 per cent less than last year’s total to the end of May. That estimate -1828 on all known migrant routes – was less than half of the final total for 2015, which came to 3770.
For the first three weeks of May 2016, IOM estimated just 13 fatalities in three incidents. None of these occurred on the eastern Mediterranean route between Turkey and Greece, where in the first four months of the year, nearly 400 migrants and refugees drowned.
“The events of this past week – with at least 1000 deaths – have obviously changed our assessment. The past eight days marks one of the deadliest periods yet in the migration crisis, which is now in its fourth year,” IOM said on May 31.
IOM said that some important benchmarks to note included that more than 13 000 migrants were rescued in the Channel of Sicily between May 23 and 29, bringing the total rescued in May 2016 to 47 600 men, women and children, and added that in spite of the increase of arrivals recorded in this period, the number of migrants who have arrived in Italy this year is almost precisely the same as during this period last year (47 463 as of May 31 2015).
The organisation said that the worst incident occurred last Thursday and involved an engineless wooden boat with more than 550 people on board. The vessel was being towed by another smuggling boat, which had an estimated 800 people on board. After several hours, the smaller boat began to take on water.
According to testimonies gathered by IOM from survivors in Italy, the captain of the towing boat then cut the tow line. The second vessel continued to take on water and eventually capsized. Initial reports indicate most of the migrants aboard drowned, with just 87 survivors. The migrants included many Eritreans, but there were also Ethiopians and Sudanese on board.
Another deadly incident, reported by IOM last Friday, occurred on May 25. After having met survivors, IOM staff report that the number of confirmed fatalities now is 250 — not the 100 initially estimated. Other survivors, rescued last Thursday by the vessel Reina Sofia – which recovered 45 bodies – testified that their boat was carrying about 350 people. About 280 of those remain missing.
Federico Soda, Director of the IOM Coordination Office for the Mediterranean in Rome said: “The increase in numbers of arrivals is attributable, in part, to better weather, and in part to the use of bigger wooden boats that can carry more people than the rubber boats usually used. Smugglers put over 700 migrants in the wooden boats, whereas the rubber ones generally carry only 100 to 120 people. During the last few days we have had major accidents involving unsafe wooden boats. This also explains the increase in the number of migrants dead or missing: one accident can result in hundreds of fatalities.”
In the case of the incident that caused 500 deaths, the boat went out without an engine. Survivors reported they did not want to leave in such conditions, but were forced aboard by the smugglers.
“This is a humanitarian emergency in the desert and at sea where thousands of people are dying. For the moment, the number of arrivals is the same as last year, but the number of deaths registered this year is already higher compared to the same period in 2015. Without the outstanding work of the many rescue ships patrolling the Channel of Sicily, the death toll would have been even higher,” Soda said.
(Photo: IOM/Franceso Malavolta)