© AFP | African migrants rescued after their boat sank off Libya on April 13, 2017, with at least 97 people reported missing
TRIPOLI (AFP) –
At least 97 migrants were missing after their boat sank on Thursday off the Libyan coast, a navy spokesman said.
Survivors said the missing include 15 women and five children, General Ayoub Qassem told AFP.
He said the Libyan coastguard had rescued a further 23 migrants of various African nationalities just under 10 kilometres (6 miles) off the coast of Tripoli.
The boat’s hull was completely destroyed and the survivors, all men, were found clinging to a flotation device, he said.
Those who had disappeared were “probably dead”, but bad weather had so far prevented the recovery of their bodies, Qassem added.
An AFP photographer said survivors had been given food and medical care at Tripoli port before being transferred to a migrant centre east of the capital.
Six years since the revolution that toppled dictator Moamer Kadhafi, Libya has become a key departure point for migrants risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.
Hailing mainly from sub-Saharan countries, most of the migrants board boats operated by people traffickers in western Libya, and make for the Italian island of Lampedusa 300 kilometres (190 miles) away.
Since the beginning of this year, at least 590 migrants have died or gone missing along the Libyan coast, the International Organization for Migration said in late March.
In the absence of an army or regular police force in Libya, several militias act as coastguards but are often themselves accused of complicity or even involvement in the lucrative people-smuggling business.
More than 24,000 migrants arrived in Italy from Libya during the first three months of the year, up from 18,000 during the same period last year, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Migrant Fatalities Surge on Libya-Italy Mediterranean Route — Almost 400 migrants and refugees have died this year while transiting by sea from Libya to Italy (that we know of), 13,000 have made it ashore in Europe (February 2017)
Migrants drown in the Mediterranean Sea, February 2017
© AFP/File / by Nina LARSON | Thousands of migrants have died while trying to reach Europe
Mediterranean Migrant Crossings Down 80 Percent
Mass refugee flow into Europe slows, nations left to grapple with domestic aftermath
The number of migrants traveling to Europe across the Mediterranean Sea is down significantly compared to this time last year.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported on Tuesday that 31,993 migrants entered Europe via the Mediterranean from the start of the year through April 9.
“After a considerable period of time most European nations have realized that encouraging millions of migrants to enter Europe via perilous human-trafficking routes was the wrong approach for all concerned.”
In 2016, 172,774 migrants traveled to Europe via the Mediterranean during the same time period, meaning over 80 percent fewer migrants crossed the sea compared to this time last year.
In addition to far fewer migrants crossing the Mediterranean this year, the IOM report also suggests that the ethnic makeup of the migrants themselves, and the places at which they mostly enter Europe, has also significantly changed.
Between January 1 and March 22, 2016, a vast majority of migrants crossing the Mediterranean — 148,731 out of 163,273 — arrived in Greece, according to the report. Only 14,492, fewer than nine percent, arrived in Italy.
But between January 1 and March 22, 2017, 20,674 out of 25,170 migrants, 82 percent, crossing the Mediterranean arrived in Italy. Only 3,946, just over 15 percent, arrived in Greece.
The shift in country of arrival for the majority of migrants reflects a significant shift in point of origin of the migrants. Fewer Middle Easterners are entering Europe via the Mediterranean Sea — the majority of those crossing are now Africans, a fact the report itself indicates.
“IOM Rome spokesperson Flavio Di Giacomo reported [April 10] that over 2,100 migrants rescued last week have been brought to Italy since IOM’s last report. Among them were over 500 Bangladeshis and around 50 Syrians – the rest, mostly sub-Saharan Africans,” the report states.
Italy has always received a majority of its migrants from Africa, so the drop in migrants entering Greece reflects a significant drop in the number of Middle Eastern migrants.
There are a number of potential reasons for this change, most likely a significant decrease in new refugees fleeing Syria. Those who continue to leave the region may also be opting for the longer, but significantly less perilous, land route.
Some observers believe the decrease could be the result of shifting European policies to manage the massive influx of migrants.
“After a considerable period of time most European nations have realized that encouraging millions of migrants to enter Europe via perilous human-trafficking routes was the wrong approach for all concerned,” said Ben Harris-Quinney, chairman of the Bow Group, the UK’s oldest conservative think tank.
“Collective efforts have seen the creation of refugee camps in afflicted regions and anti-piracy operations to prevent unregistered boats from crossing between Africa and Mediterranean nations,” Harris-Quinney said.
Rising anti-migrant sentiment within Europe may also be a factor. “Since Merkel has reversed her open-door migrant policy and other nations like Britain have restricted their migrant intake, there is no longer such a strong pull factor from European nations,” Harris-Quinney told LifeZette.
Tags: Africa, boat sank off Libya, EU, Europe, Global Migration Data Analysis Center of the International Organization for Migration in Berlin, Italy, Lampedusa, Libyan coast, Mediterranean, Mediterranean Migrant Crossings, migrants, refugees, UN