The sinking of a boat with more than 30 people on board this week is the deadliest migration tragedy so far in the English Channel
Past KARL RITTER Associated Press
25 November 2021, 17:27
• 4 min reading
ROM – The sinking of a boat with more than 30 people on board this week is the deadliest migration tragedy to date in the English Channel.
However, migrating shipwrecks of this magnitude are not uncommon in the waters around Europe’s southern borders.
This year alone, UN officials estimate that 1,600 people have died or disappeared in the Mediterranean, the main gateway to Europe 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 of Migration estimates that 23,000 people have died since 2014 when they tried to cross the Mediterranean in rickety boats or inflatable boats, reaching a peak of more than 5,000 in 2016. During the same seven-year period, about 166 people died in the English Channel.
Last week alone, 85 people died in two separate incidents while trying to reach Italy from Libya, said Flavio di Giacomo, IOM’s spokesman in Italy. Those tragedies were barely noticeable in Europe.
“I think it’s a matter of proximity,” said di Giacomo. “I think the media’s attention to what happened between Britain and France is also due to the fact that this is new. Europe is not used to having it on the continent; it is usually at the external borders.”
This year, the busiest and deadliest migrant route to Europe is the central Mediterranean, where people travel in crowded boats from Libya and Tunisia – and in some cases all the way from Turkey – to Italy. About 60,000 people have arrived in Italy by sea this year, and about 1,200 have died or disappeared on the voyage, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
The number missing is an estimate based in part on data from survivors of shipwrecks.
Migrant rescue activists said on Thursday that a boat in the central Mediterranean with 430 people on board took in water and called on European authorities to help. Another boat operated by the charity Sea-Watch was looking for a safe haven to land 463 rescued migrants.
At the same time, since last year, traffic has increased on an even more dangerous road in the Atlantic, where migrants leave Senegal, Mauritania or Morocco in simple wooden boats hoping to reach Spain’s Canary Islands. Some boats sink not far from the coast of Africa and others disappear further out, in some cases they miss the Canary Islands and drift deep into the Atlantic.
“The route from West Africa is very long and very dangerous,” said di Giacomo.
The IOM has registered 900 deaths on the Canary Islands route this year, he said, but the actual number may be double “and no one is paying much attention.”
More than 400 people were rescued this week as they tried to reach the archipelago.
Human rights groups often criticize European governments for not doing more to save migrants trying to reach the continent on un seaworthy ships. European rescue operations led by Italy in the central Mediterranean were reduced a few years ago and more emphasis was placed on training and equipping the Libyan coast guard to catch migrant boats before they can reach European waters. Critics say Europe is closing its eyes to human rights abuses in Libyan detention centers for migrants.
Carlotta Sami of the UNCHR in Italy noted that nine out of ten refugees have fled to neighboring countries, saying the agency is pushing for EU governments to provide “safe passages” for refugees “to reduce the number of people trying to make the extremely risky journey. “
AP writer Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.
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