Over 700 Migrants Feared Drowned in Mediterranean

Over 700 Migrants Feared Drowned in Mediterranean

More than 700 people fleeing Africa and the Middle East may have drowned in shipwrecks in the Mediterranean over the last week, bringing the death toll this year to almost 3,000, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Monday.
In the worst incident, as many as 500 migrants are believed to have died after traffickers rammed their ship off Malta’s coast last week, an event that only came to light this weekend in testimony from two of nine survivors.
The survivors said the traffickers ordered the migrants to change vessels in the middle of the Mediterranean. The migrants refused, leading to a confrontation that ended when traffickers rammed the ship carrying the migrants, causing it to sink, IOM spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume told Reuters in Geneva.
“Some 500 people were on board - Syrians, Palestinians, Egyptians and Sudanese. They were trying to reach Europe,” Berthiaume said.
“That means that 700 people perished at sea these last days in the Mediterranean, the deadliest incidents in the space of a few days,” she said.
The vessel had set off on Saturday, Sept 6 from Damiette, Egypt, and sank off Malta’s coast on Sept 10th, she said, adding that some of the survivors were only rescued on Friday.

 ‘Deadliest Weekend Ever’
“It was without any doubt the deadliest weekend ever in the Mediterranean,” Carlotta Sami of the UN refugee agency UNHCR said.
Another ship packed with up to 250 African emigrants sank off the Libyan coast, and most of them are feared dead, a spokesman for the Libyan navy said late on Sunday. Some 26 people survived.
Migrants have been streaming out of North Africa, mostly lawless Libya, in rickety boats in rising numbers for years. Many head for Italy, a gateway to the European Union (EU).
“A combination of factors have led to a major increase. They do not have other very easy options to get anywhere else from Libya. They are not able to get to surrounding countries in North Africa from Libya.
Some 130,000 people have arrived in Europe by sea so far this year, compared with 60,000 last year, according to the UNHCR. Italy has received more than 118,000, most of them rescued at sea under its naval operation Mare Nostrum.
Half of those arriving in Europe by boat are refugees from Syria and Eritrea, according to the agency.
“We all need to wake up to the scale of this crisis. There is a direct link between the conflicts in Syria and elsewhere and the rise in deaths at sea in the Mediterranean,” Jolie said.
“Unless we address the root causes of these conflicts, the numbers of refugees dying or unable to find protection will continue to rise,” she said.


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