Mediterranean migrant deaths in 2015 may hit 30,000: IOM

Mediterranean migrant deaths in 2015 may hit 30,000: IOM

BBC News Europe

21 April 2015

The number of migrants dying in Mediterranean Sea crossings could hit 30,000 this year if the current rate continues, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) says.

The deaths in 2015 so far are 30 times higher than the same period last year.

The UN believes the sinking of one boat at the weekend claimed over 800 lives, making it the deadliest recorded.

The Tunisian captain of the boat survived and has been accused in Italy of reckless multiple homicide.

Prosecutors there allege Mohammed Ali Malek, 27, steered his heavily overloaded boat into collision with a merchant vessel coming to its rescue.

Locked below decks

IOM spokesman Joel Millman told reporters in Geneva: “The 2015 death toll now is more than 30 times last year’s total at this date… when just 56 deaths of migrants had been reported on the Mediterranean.

“IOM now fears the 2014 total of 3,279 migrant [deaths] on the Mediterranean may be surpassed this year in a matter of weeks, and could well top 30,000 by the end of the year, based on the current death toll. It could actually be even higher.”

More than 1,700 migrants are believed to have died so far in 2015.

At the scene: BBC’s James Reynolds in Mineo, Sicily

More than a dozen survivors of the weekend shipwreck are being guarded in a house inside the Mineo migrant centre.

They’ve become the most important witnesses in an official criminal investigation into the wreck of their boat. Italian officials instructed us not to approach or speak to them.

After midday the survivors came out of the house and were escorted the few steps to a waiting minibus. The survivors – all young men – boarded the bus in single file and in silence.

One of them sat next to the window. I caught his eye and signalled a thumbs up or thumbs down sign as a question. He replied with a thumbs up – and then broke out into a smile.

The survivors were then driven a short distance to the dining hall, where they were served a lunch of pasta, rice, chicken and vegetables. They ate in silence.

Grey line

Meanwhile a spokesman for the UN refugee agency said it had interviewed most of the 28 survivors of the weekend sinking off Libya.

Adrian Edwards said it appeared more than 800 people had died – “the deadliest incident in the Mediterranean that we have recorded”.

About 350 on board were believed to be Eritreans, with refugees from other nations including Syria, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Mali, Senegal, Gambia, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia and Bangladesh.

Prosecutors in the Sicilian port of Catania, where the survivors were brought, say Capt Malek is also accused of people-smuggling.

His first mate, 25-year-old Syrian Mahmud Bikhit, also survived and faces unspecified charges.

The charges on both men have yet to be formally laid by a judge.

Prosecutors say the boat collided with a Portuguese container ship just before it capsized, but cleared the merchant vessel’s crew of any responsibility.

They said the boat keeled over as a result of steering mistakes by the captain and the panicked movements of the migrants on the 20-metre (66ft) former fishing trawler.

Chief prosecutor Giovanni Salvi said the huge death toll was as a result of so many migrants being locked below on the three-deck boat.

The IOM’s Flavio Di Giacomo said the survivors were “very tired, very shocked” when they arrived in Catania late on Monday.

Separately in Greece, two Syrian men rescued from a vessel which ran aground off Rhodes on Monday, killing three of about 90 migrants on board, will face charges linked to illegal transportation.

UN priorities

The charges came after the EU set out a package of measures to try to ease the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean.

They include an increase in the financial resources of Frontex, the border agency runs the EU’s Mediterranean rescue service Triton, and an extension of Triton’s operational area.

The EU had been criticised over the scope of Triton, which replaced the larger Italian operation Mare Nostrum at the end of last year.

On Tuesday, UK PM David Cameron said it was right to extend the rescue efforts and that Britain would contribute.

There will also be a new campaign to destroy traffickers’ boats.

The UN has said that, although cracking down on people smugglers is necessary, the priority should be on migrant protection and asylum.

The BBC’s Imogen Foulkes says the UN wants the EU to introduce legal alternatives for migrants to enter Europe – but she says these are awkward promises for EU countries to make, where immigration is politically very controversial.

An emergency EU leaders’ summit on the migrant issue will be held on Thursday.

Featured Image: One of the 28 survivors of the weekend sinking arrives in Catania in Sicily. Copyright: EPA

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