IOM Fears 320 Migrants Missing in Mediterranean as Deaths Approach 3,000 in 2016
IOM reports an estimated 206,400 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea in 2016 through 5 June, arriving in Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Spain. No fatalities have been recorded in the Mediterranean since Saturday, 4 June. Deaths so far this year are 2,809, compared with 1,838 through the first six months of 2015. In other words, fatalities in the Mediterranean in 2016 are nearly 1,000 more than last year’s mid-year total, even though we now are some three weeks shy of 2016’s mid-year point.
Concerning the Friday, 3 June shipwreck off Crete that IOM reported on last week, we now fear some 320 migrants and refugees remain missing based on testimony received from survivors whom IOM staffers were able to interview in the Italian port of Augusta after their rescue. Those 320 missing (and presumed drowned) are included in the latest fatalities total, and are in addition to bodies recovered last week by rescue crews.
IOM learned from several survivors that the number of passengers aboard the vessel that foundered at sea was between 648 and 650 men, women and children. Both numbers were mentioned. Migrants told IOM they were sure of the number “because smugglers counted them twice a day before departure.”
Some survivors added two Sudanese brothers on board died from health issues, which the survivors described as consistent with diabetic shock. Others said their boat carried 150 women and about 20 accompanied children, said to be between six months and ten years old.
“Before sinking, a father who was travelling with his wife and two sons entrusted his three-year-old girl to another migrant he met on board,” IOM’s team recorded. “He said ‘I entrust you my daughter because I feel that we will not survive.’ He died, together with his wife and the other children. He asked the man to look for his relatives in Egypt, in order to give them his daughter.”
Survivors mentioned another girl, aged seven, who also arrived in Augusta. They believe her parents were also rescued by a different boat and were brought safely to Egypt.
IOM staffers also interviewed “Mona,” an Egyptian woman who left Egypt together with sons aged five, ten and eight. She said she left Egypt because she wanted to join her husband in Germany. After trying several times to get a visa, she chose a sea crossing.
“Mona” believed her three children all perished last week, but some of the survivors arriving in Egypt have since contacted IOM and reported that one of the sons was rescued and is alive in Egypt. On Monday morning IOM was able to inform to the mother that her son is safe.
IOM Rome spokesperson Flavio Di Giacomo this week reported new arrival numbers for the year from Italy’s Ministry of the Interior. The Ministry notes Eritreans arriving by sea in the period of 1 January through 31 May 2016 comprise the largest group of arrivals, at 6,076, out of a total of 47,851. For the most recent month, the Ministry reports 19,925 arrivals, or nearly half the year’s total so far. Migrant arrivals in May 2015 were 21,231.
After Eritrea, Nigeria is in second place with 5,967 arrivals. Other important sending countries are The Gambia (3,782), Somalia (3,450), Côte d’Ivoire (3,156), Guinea (2,836), Sudan (2,653) and Mali (2,614).
The number of Syrians decreased from 3,373 in 2015 to 135 in 2016 – demonstrating that the closure of the Balkan route has not yet had any impact on the Mediterranean’s Africa-to-Italy crossing. There has been an increase in Egyptians, however, from 243 in 2015 to 1,815 in 2016.
“Libya is still the main departure point of the majority of migrants, but we are also seeing an increase of numbers of migrants sailing from Egypt,” said Federico Soda, Director of the IOM Coordinating Office for the Mediterranean in Rome.
“Every year arrivals from Egypt represent 10-15 percent of the total, but it is a flow that usually starts with the good weather. This year we have registered arrivals from Egypt also during the first months of the year. They include Egyptians, Somalis, Sudanese and Eritreans.”
According to some testimonies gathered by IOM staff, some of the migrants coming from East Africa also passed through Egypt in order to avoid Libya, which is considered currently too dangerous.
According to Soda, the number of minors is also rising. In 2015 by the end of May 4,566 minors had arrived in Italy by sea. Some 3,058 were unaccompanied. This year there are 7,567, including 7,009 unaccompanied. Nearly half of them (3,274) came from Egypt, Gambia, Guinea, and Côte d’Ivoire, which together only accounted for some 500 of unaccompanied minor arrivals in 2015.
The protection of unaccompanied minors is a major concern. They are at high risk of exploitation and human trafficking for both sex and forced labour. IOM works with the Italian government at the landing points in Italy to facilitate the screening and identification of minors and victims of trafficking so that they can be referred to the responsible authorities for protection and assistance.
The growing number of minors is surprising in a context that is roughly unchanged in terms of overall numbers of arrivals, according to Soda. Total arrivals of adults and minors in Italy this year have been roughly the same as last year. There were 47,851 arrivals between 1 January and 31 May 2016, compared to 47,452 during the same period in 2015.