‘Latest Mediterranean Tragedy Pushes Number of People Perishing in 2016 Beyond 5,000’

Human Wrongs Watch

23 December 2016 – Highlighting that the number of casualties in the Mediterranean Sea this year has crossed 5,000 with the latest reports of about 100 people feared to have drowned, the United Nations refugee agency has called on countries to increase pathways for admission of refugees.

Risking their lives to reach Europe from North Africa, a boatload of people, some of them likely in need of international protection, are rescued in the Mediterranean Sea by the Italian Navy. Photo: UNHCR/A. D’Amato

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), this is the worst annual death toll ever seen.

Attributing reports from the Italian Coastguard, William Spindler, a spokesperson for UNHCR said that in two separate incidents, rubber dinghies collapsed and those on board fell into the sea.

“Only 63 people survived after the dinghy collapsed and passengers fell into the water. The second dinghy was carrying about 120 people and 80 were rescued by the Coastguard,” he added.

Some 175 people from another dinghy and a wooden boat were rescued. Eight bodies were also recovered during the operations.

Spindler further stressed that these incidents highlight the need to increase pathways for admission of refugees, including resettlement, private sponsorship, family reunification and student scholarship schemes, among others, so that they can avoid dangerous journeys and the use of smugglers.

He added that declining quality of the vessels used by people smugglers, the vagaries of the weather and the tactics used by them to avoid detection might be the root causes of the recent increase in deaths.

“These include sending large numbers of embarkations simultaneously, which makes the work of rescuers more difficult,” the spokesperson said, underlining the severity of the challenges.

UNHCR data shows that this year an average of 14 people died every day in the Mediterranean Sea. This is the highest number ever recorded.

Last year, with over a million people crossing the Mediterranean, 3,771 casualties were recorded. (SOURCE: UN).

Pregnant women, children among the victims in November’s Mediterranean tragedy 

A number of children and pregnant women were among the 240 people reported to have drowned off the coast of Libya while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea this week, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on 4 November 2016 reported.**

Refugees and migrants disembark a Spanish coast guard vessel at the port of Palermo, Sicily, Italy on 13 May 2016. In 2015, Italy received 150,000 asylum-seekers, and the country is on track to receive a higher number in 2016. Photo: UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson VII

In a news release, UNICEF’s Helena Rodriguez, a gynaecologist and cultural mediator (an interpreter of cultural needs and practices) working with Italian health workers to assist rescued from the sea spoke of the loss and suffering of the survivors brought to the Italian island of Lampedusa yesterday.

“It is an awful situation here,” said Rodriguez.

Speaking, in particular, of the anguish of a young Liberian woman who lost her two-year-old son, 13-year-old daughter and 21-year-old brother – all of whom drowned when their boat capsized, the UNICEF official said:

“The tragedy has left this young woman in a state of deep shock after she saw her children and her young brother drown in front of her.”

Smugglers shot at them and forced them to go. This is why so many people drowned just 12 km from the Libyan shore

“Even though she had paid smugglers $2,400 for her family to make the crossing from Libya to Italy, when she and others saw the completely unseaworthy boat, they refused to get in because they were afraid. But the smugglers shot at them and forced them to go. This is why so many people drowned just 12 km from the Libyan shore,” she added.


The Liberian woman, one of 29 survivors brought to the island, is also suffering from acute pneumonia.

According to UNICEF, two other women who were saved by the same Norwegian rescue vessel also lost their children at sea. Most of the victims were from Senegal, Liberia, Guinea, and Nigeria.

Additionally, the UN agency noted that those rescued were in difficult physical and psychological condition upon arrival – with some in a coma and others suffering from severe burns due to exposure to engine fuel.

It added that 2016 is set to be the deadliest year on record for the Mediterranean with more than 4,200 refugees and migrants having died attempting the dangerous journey across the sea. Nearly 160,000 have arrived to Italy by sea so far this year. (**SOURCE: UN).

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Children of a Lesser God: Trafficking Soars in India

Rampant Transnational Crime in Fisheries Includes Human Trafficking

2016 Human Wrongs Watch

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