Over 500 Refugees and Migrants Have Already Died at Sea This Year

The media’s focus on the migrant and refugee crisis has all but evaporated over the past six months, but a Spanish aid agency warns that around 200 migrants* most likely died last week after their boats capsized near Libya.

The Spanish refugee organization Proactiva reports that it recently found two capsized boats off the coast of Libya and pulled five bodies from the water. The Italian coastguard has confirmed these deaths. But because it is common practice to pack these lifeboats with one hundred or more people, many more migrants could have died.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the only incident to make headlines this month. A migrant vessel also sank off western Turkey last week, drowning eleven people.

The BBC reports:

Five children were among the dead, it reported, and said the migrants were Syrians, probably attempting to reach the Greek islands.

Video footage showed several bodies laid out near ambulances on a beach.

[...]

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said it was “deeply alarmed” by the reports.

The International Organization for Migration estimates the year’s potential deaths — so far — to be 559, and that’s without factoring in last week’s heavy death toll. However, the agency warns that spring weather tends to bring with it an influx of attempted border crossings, something the data is already starting to show.

And this year, that influx could lead to far more fatalities. That’s because the Greece/Turkey route into Europe is now virtually closed, thanks to nations that have tightened their borders. As a result, many migrants must take to the sea to gain access to Italy and enter Europe through that route.

An estimated 6,000 migrants and refugees have been rescued over the past seven days as they have attempted to make the journey, showing just how heavily trafficked the route is. 

This comes after European leaders agreed to a deal in February of this year that aims to stem the flow of migrants and refugees using the Mediterranean route between Libya and Italy. While some of these refugees and migrants are from Syria, a greater proportion tend to be from various north African nations. As a result, European leaders have maintained that many are likely to be deemed economic migrants and therefore should be prevented from crossing if possible.

The plan gives Libya $215 million for various operations, including the country’s coastguard. It also calls for increased efforts to prevent human trafficking, as well as improving migration centers in Libya. This plan comes in addition to the previous Turkey-EU deal that forced Turkey to take in migrants from overburdened Greece. 

However, international voices have been highly critical of the deal. Amnesty International notes that while the Turkey deal may seem to have reduced some migrant numbers, it also brought about a number of human rights abuses and problems.

What’s more, the effort to stem migrant numbers won’t translate to Libya because the country’s government has only loose control over its borders. The well-documented political instability and human rights issues within Libya and its migrant facilities could, at the very least, mean this is an ineffective measure. At worst, it could facilitate more human rights abuses and human trafficking.

Over the past few months, the Trump administration and the British Brexit deal have dominated headlines, taking the world’s focus away from the refugee crisis. Unfortunately, that “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” mentality hasn’t made the problem disappear. In fact, migrant and refugee families may face an even more challenging path to safety in the coming months.

*This post uses the term “migrants” because we are dealing with official reports of deaths/missing people and that is the term that is used for such data. That said, it is imperative to acknowledge that the legal difference between migrant and refugee has been used as a weapon in this debate and continues to be a contentious issue.

Photo Credit: Jordi Bernabeu Farrus/Flickr

63 comments

Jack Y
Jack Y9 months ago

thanks

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Jack Y
Jack Y9 months ago

thanks

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John J
John J9 months ago

thanks for sharing

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John J
John J9 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Marie W
Marie W1 years ago

Thanks for posting.

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Carl R
Carl R1 years ago

Thanks!!!!

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ali a
ali a1 years ago

It is heartbreaking, no matter how it is.

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Joanna P
Joanna P1 years ago

Solve the refugee problem once and for all: ban politics. Political greed causes wars. What do you want for your tax? (and tax should be 5% sales tax: one tax only, no loopholes, no exemptions, individual & corporate): education, health, infrastructure, judiciary, police and not much else actioned by modular executive departments under a CEO who will be fired if targets are not met on budget. Your beliefs are your affair as long as you don't hurt anyone else. Ban politics!

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Rosslyn O
Rosslyn O1 years ago

‘Be united, O kings (Rulers) of the earth, for thereby will the tempest of discord be stilled amongst you, and your peoples find rest, if ye be of them that comprehend. Should any one among you take up arms against another, rise ye all against him, for this is naught but manifest justice.’ Baha’i Faith Writings

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Connie O
Connie O1 years ago

Truly sad.

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