The sinking of a boat carrying more than 30 people this week was the deadliest migration tragedy ever in the English Channel.
However, migratory shipwrecks of that scale are not uncommon in the waters around Europe’s southern borders.
This year alone, UN officials estimate that 1,600 people have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean, Europe’s main gateway for migrants trying to enter the continent with the help of human traffickers.
The death toll is higher than last year, but by no means unique. The International Organization for Migration estimates that 23,000 people died while trying to cross the Mediterranean in rare boats or rubber dinghies in 2014, up from 5,000 in 2016. In the same seven-year period, about 166 people have died in the English. Channel.
In Italy, IOM spokesman Flavio Di Giacomo said last week that 85 people had died in two separate incidents while trying to reach Italy from Libya. Those tragedies were barely seen in Europe.
“I think it’s a question of proximity,” Di Giacomo said. “I think the media attention to what happened between the UK and France is also because it is new. Europe is not used to it inside the continent; usually it happens on the outer borders.”
most dangerous route
The busiest and deadliest migrant route for Europe this year is the central Mediterranean where people travel in crowded boats from Libya and Tunisia – and in some cases from Turkey – to Italy. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, about 60,000 people have reached Italy by sea this year, and 1,200 have died or disappeared during the journey.
The number of missing is partly an estimate based on information from shipwreck survivors.
Migrant rescue workers said on Thursday that a boat carrying 430 people was taking to the water in the central Mediterranean and asked European authorities for assistance. Another boat operated by the charity Sea-Watch was looking for a safe harbor to land 463 rescued migrants.
Meanwhile, since last year, traffic has increased on an even more dangerous route in the Atlantic Ocean, where migrants leave in simple wooden boats from Senegal, Mauritania or Morocco with the hope of reaching Spain’s Canary Islands. Some boats sink not far off the coast of Africa and others disappear far, in some cases the Canaries disappear and drift deep into the Atlantic.
“The route from West Africa is very long and very dangerous,” said Di Giacomo.
The IOM has recorded 900 deaths on the Canary route this year, he said, but the true number could be double “and no one is paying much attention.”
More than 400 people were rescued trying to reach the islands this week.
Human rights groups often criticize European governments for doing nothing more to protect migrants trying to reach the continent on seaworthy ships. European rescue efforts led by Italy in the central Mediterranean were cut short a few years ago and more emphasis was placed on training and equipping the Libyan coast guard to intercept migratory boats before reaching European waters. Critics say Europe is turning a blind eye to human rights abuses in Libya’s detention centers for migrants.
Noting that nine out of 10 refugees have fled to neighboring countries, Carlotta Sami of the UNCHR in Italy said the agency is pushing EU governments to provide “safe passages” for refugees to help those in need. To reduce the number of people who attempt to travel extremely risky. ,