Migrants, Mostly from Africa, Continue Deadly Mediterranean Crossings

By International Office of Migration (IOM)
Click for Full Image Size

GENEVA, Switzerland, November 28, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- IOM's team providing assistance to migrants arriving in Europe by sea from North Africa and the Middle East recorded another 18 migrants reported missing, and presumed dead this week. The reports came from fellow passengers rescued by commercial and military vessels patrolling increasingly wintery and dangerous Mediterranean routes.

Over 5,100 migrants have arrived in Italy by sea in the last 10 days, rescued by the ships plying waters in the Channel of Sicily in the framework of the Triton and Mare Nostrum operations, which will continue until the end of the year, when the Italian Government said it will end its Mare Nostrum mission (which this month officially changed its name into “Surveillance and Sea Security Mechanism”).

The most recent landings took place in Sicily yesterday (27/11), when rescue ships brought 320 migrants to Augusta and another 182 to Porto Empedocle. Additionally, several hundred migrants arrived in Greece two days ago, when a 77-meter cargo ship reportedly carrying 700 people was towed to safety to Crete by a Greek navy frigate.

The new arrivals – rescued in 13 separate operations – are mostly sub-Saharan Africans from the Gambia, Mali, Senegal, Nigeria and Ghana.

The biggest recent landing took place in Taranto, Apulia, where the ship San Giorgio deposited 913 migrants rescued in the Channel of Sicily.

The migrants left Libya on several different boats, some of which foundered. In one wreck, at least six people were swept away and are missing, presumed drowned, according to survivors.

Another 94 migrants, who also survived a shipwreck, were brought to Augusta on Sunday by the Panama-flagged commercial ship Eviacement.

“They are all Sub-Saharan and left from Tripoli,” said IOM Italy Chief of Mission Federico Soda. “They told us that they were forced by traffickers to use an unseaworthy rubber dinghy. After a few hours it started to have problems and to slowly sink. Some of the people fell in the water. The survivors said that by the time they were picked up, 12 people had drifted away and presumably drowned.”

Recently rescued migrants in Sicily now also include 575 Syrians. According to IOM staff who debriefed them, they left from Mersin in Turkey.

“It is still difficult to say what impact the end of Mare Nostrum will have on life-saving operations carried out at sea,” said Soda. “But we think that the Mediterranean still needs to be patrolled, as it has been up to now, in terms of resources, scope and geographical reach. Otherwise many more lives will be at risk.”

Under the new Triton operation, ships will only patrol within 30 miles off the Italian coast, with a specific mandate to control the European Union's borders. The Italian Mare Nostrum operation carried out search and rescue operations in international waters beyond the 30-mile limit.

“The flows of migrants will probably continue for some time. Therefore the risk of shipwrecks will not decrease,” noted Soda.

In November alone, at least 8,000 people have been rescued at sea. In 2014, a total of over 161,000 migrants arrived safely in Italy, but at least 3,200 went missing at sea, presumed drowned.