PanARMENIAN.Net - At least 240 people are feared to have drowned in the southern Mediterranean in early November 2016, bringing the annual total to 4,220 – the highest in the Mediterranean on record.
According to a Guardian report, about 100 people drowned when an inflatable dinghy capsized shortly after leaving the Libyan coast, some of the 29 survivors told the UN refugee agency. A further 140 are thought to have drowned in a second incident in another rubber boat. Only two people appear to have survived the second tragedy.
“The Mediterranean is a deadly stretch of sea for refugees and migrants, yet they still see no other option but to risk their lives to cross it,” the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, said.
According to the UN, 3,771 migrants died in 2015 on the sea route, which links key transit countries Turkey and Libya with Europe. The death toll has increased despite a drop in migration to Europe compared to last year. In the first 10 months of 2015, around 730,000 migrants and refugees came to Europe via the Mediterranean; during the same period in 2016, that number dropped to 334,000.
UN experts attribute the increasing risks to people-smugglers on Libya's lawless coastline overloading flimsy dinghies and boats with desperate people.
Military missions from several European countries have tried to curb the Libyan smuggling industry by intercepting and destroying the smugglers’ repurposed fishing trawlers after they leave Libyan waters.
In response, the smugglers have simply turned to flimsy inflatable boats, which can be piloted by refugees themselves, and which are even more dangerous than the wooden trawlers.
“This is the worst we have ever seen,” UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler said. “From one death for every 269 arrivals last year, in 2016 the likelihood of dying has spiraled to one in 88.”
Spindler said the high loss of life takes place despite a large overall fall this year in the number of people seeking to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. Last year at least 1,015,078 people made the crossing. This year so far, crossings stand at 327,800.
According to the Guardian, Syrians appear to have stopped using the Libyan route. Most of the migrants and refugees this year have fled war and poverty in Nigeria and Sudan, or dictatorships in Eritrea and Gambia. Others are migrant workers who tried to find jobs in Libya but fled after a civil war broke out and law and order collapsed.
“Between Libya and Italy the likelihood of dying is at one death for every 47 arrivals,” he added, referring to what is called the Central Mediterranean route.
According to Eurostat, EU member states received over 1.2 million first time asylum applications in 2015, a number more than double that of the previous year. Four states (Germany, Hungary, Sweden, and Austria) received around two-thirds of the EU's asylum applications in 2015, with Hungary, Sweden, and Austria being the top recipients of asylum applications per capita.
The number of first time asylum applicants increased by 40 % in the second quarter of 2016 compared with the same quarter of 2015, while it slightly increased by 6 % compared with the first quarter of 2016. Overall, the number of persons seeking asylum from non-EU countries in the EU-28 during the second quarter of 2016 reached 305 700. This was 88 100 more than in the same quarter of 2015.
Citizens of 148 countries sought asylum for the first time in the EU in the second quarter of 2016. Syrians, Afghanis and Iraqis were the top 3 citizenships of asylum seekers, lodging 90 500, 50 300 and 34 300 applications respectively.