Migrant deaths in European waters not new, over 1,600 have died this year – IOM

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While the deaths of at least 27 migrants in the English Channel have shocked both Britain and France, shipwrecks of that scale are not uncommon in European waters.

UN officials estimate that as many as 1,600 people have died or are missing in the Mediterranean Sea this year alone.

In contrast, just 35 migrants have died or remain missing in the Channel since the start of 2021.

This year, the busiest and deadliest migrant route to Europe is the central Mediterranean, where people travel in crowded boats from northern Africa.

The route has become the main gateway to Europe for migrants trying to enter the continent with the help of human smugglers.

On Thursday, Italy’s coastguard reported that they had rescued nearly 300 migrants off the coast of Lampedusa.

The authorities said the overcrowded boat had run into problems in difficult sea conditions, and some people had already fallen in the water. Eight children were among the 296 people rescued, the coastguard said.

The death toll in the Mediterranean this year is higher than 2020 but by no means unique.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that 23,000 people have perished since 2014 while trying to reach Europe from northern Africa, including more than 5,000 people in 2016 alone.

In the same seven-year period, about 166 people have died in the English Channel.

Just last week, 85 people died in two separate incidents while trying to reach Italy from Libya, said the IOM spokesman in Italy, Flavio di Giacomo.

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“I think the media attention of what happened between UK and France is also because this is new,” di Giacomo said.

“Europe is not used to [this] inside the continent, usually, it’s on the external borders,” he added.

According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, around 60,000 people have arrived in Italy by sea this year.

Meanwhile, an estimated 1,200 have died or disappeared on the journey, partly based on information from survivors of shipwrecks.

Migrant traffic has also increased on the even more dangerous Atlantic Ocean route to Spain’s Canary Islands.

IOM has registered 900 deaths on the Canaries route this year, di Giacomo said, but the true number could be double “and no one is paying a lot of attention.”

More than 400 people were rescued just this week while trying to reach the island group.

Human rights groups often criticize European governments for not doing more to rescue migrants trying to reach the continent on unseaworthy vessels.

In recent years, Europe has placed more emphasis on training and equipping the Libyan coast guard to intercept migrant boats before they can reach European waters.

But critics say Europe is turning a blind eye to human rights abuses in Libyan detention centres for migrants.

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