ROME (HPD) — The back-to-back shipwrecks of human-smuggling boats off the coast of Greece have put the spotlight back on the dangers of the Mediterranean migration route, on the risks that migrants and refugees alike are willing to take, and on the internal political strife that has hampered an effective European response for those fleeing war, poverty and climate change.
Next, a look at the migratory situation in the Mediterranean Sea:
WHAT HHPDPENED TO TWO TRAFFICKING SHIPS OFF GREECE?
Bodies floated in the wreckage off a Greek island on Thursday as the death toll from the sinking of two migrant boats rose to 22, with nearly a dozen missing. The boats capsized hundreds of miles apart and one triggered a dramatic overnight rescue operation as residents and firefighters pulled its occupants to safety down sheer cliffs.
The shipwrecks occurred a few days after Italy commemorated the ninth anniversary of one of the deadliest in memory in the Mediterranean: 368 people died on October 3, 2013 when the ship they were traveling in sank off Lampedusa, in Sicily.
WHAT ARE THE TRENDS IN THE ARRIVAL OF MIGRANTS THROUGH THE MEDITERRANEAN?
So far this year, the International Organization for Migration has recorded around 109,000 “irregular” arrivals to the Mediterranean nations of Italy, Spain, Greece, Cyprus and Malta by land or sea. This has made immigration a hot political issue in these European Union countries.
Officials from the United Nations refugee agency point out that the total number of migrants trying to reach Europe this way has dropped in recent years to an average of about 120,000 a year. They consider it a relatively “manageable” figure, especially compared to the 7.4 million Ukrainians who left their country this year fleeing the Russian invasion and were welcomed in other European nations.
“We have seen how quickly a response was put together to deal with that situation in a very humane and commendable way,” said Shabia Mantoo, UNHCR spokeswoman in Geneva. “If we see this happening in this very specific situation, why can’t it be applied to the 120,000 people who arrive in Europe every year?”
Others describe as racist the harsh European response to those who cross the Mediterranean, who usually come from Africa, while taking in the Ukrainian Slavs.
HOW DANGEROUS IS THE MEDITERRANEAN?
In 2022, the IOM has reported the death or disappearance of 1,522 migrants in the Mediterranean. In all, the UN agency says 24,871 people have died or gone missing in the sea since 2014, though the true figure is believed to be even higher due to the number of unreported shipwrecks.
“It has been confirmed that the journey to Italy is the most dangerous,” said the ISMU foundation in the country, which investigates migration trends.
The Central Mediterranean route, which starts from Libya or Tunisia, is the deadliest known migration route in the world, accounting for more than half of reported deaths at sea recorded by IOM since 2014. Its main destination is Italy.
WHAT ARE THE MOST LETHAL HUMAN SMUGGLING SHIP WRECKS?
The known shipwreck with the most victims in memory in the Mediterranean occurred on April 18, 2015. An overcrowded fishing boat collided 77 nautical miles off the coast of Libya with a cargo ship that was trying to come to its rescue. Only 28 of the passengers survived. At first it was feared that the hull of the boat housed the remains of 700 people. Forensic experts who tried to identify all the dead concluded in 2018 that 1,100 people were traveling on board the fishing boat.
On October 3, 2013, a trawler with more than 500 people on board, many of them from Eritrea and Ethiopia, caught fire and sank off an uninhabited islet off the island of Lampedusa in southern Italy. Local fishermen tried to save the migrants. In the end, 155 survived and another 368 died.
A week later, on October 11, 60 miles south of Lampedusa, what is known in Italy as the “child massacre” took place. In total there were more than 260 fatalities, including 60 minors. In 2017, the Italian weekly L’Espresso published audio recordings of desperate calls from migrants for help and from Italian and Maltese authorities who seemed to delay rescue.
WHAT OTHER ROUTES ARE THERE TO EUROPE THROUGH THE MEDITERRANEAN?
Those who want to reach Spain from Morocco or Algeria take the Western Mediterranean route. The Oriental one, where this week’s shipwrecks occurred, has traditionally been used by Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans and other non-African migrants who go first to Turkey and then try to cross to Greece or other points on the European continent.
Greece was a crucial transit point for the hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees who arrived in the European Union in 2015 and 2016, many of them fleeing the wars in Iraq and Syria. That flow was drastically curbed after the agreement reached between Brussels and Turkey in 2016 to limit illegal passes. Since then, Greece has tightened its borders and erected a steel wall along its land border with the country. In addition, the European nation has been accused by Turkey and some migration experts for the immediate return of migrants, something that Athens denies.
For its part, Greece maintains that Turkey has failed to curb human traffickers working on its coast and has used migrants to politically pressure the entire EU.
HOW HAS MIGRATION DIVIDED THE 27 EU PARTNERS?
The Mediterranean countries have been complaining for years that the entire weight of receiving and processing migrants falls on them and they demand that other countries in the bloc take a step forward to welcome them.
Poland, Hungary and other Eastern nations rejected a Brussels plan to share the migration burden.
Human rights groups have condemned the fact that, in recent years, the European Union has entrusted rescues to the Libyan coast guard, which returns migrants to the horrific camps in the North African country where many face beatings, rape and abuse.
“Over the years, the routes have changed but the tragedies have not,” said the Community of Sant’Egidio at the commemoration of the anniversary of the Lampedusa sinking this week. Together with other Christian groups, the Catholic organization has brought more than 5,000 refugees to Italy through “humanitarian corridors” and has called for more safe passages to be organized so that migrants do not have to put their lives in danger on dangerous Mediterranean crossings. with human smugglers.