Mediterranean death trap: Record for refugee deaths beaten by 1,000

Rescue workers remove the dead body of a migrant, who was sailing with others on a boat which authorities believed had capsized last week, on a beach in Tripoli's Janzour city, Libya November 3, 2016. © Hani Amara
After the six latest drownings, the number of recorded deaths of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe this year has surpassed that for 2015 by 1,000, reaching 4,621. Over 540 asylum seekers have died in this month alone.

A total of 4,621 people are estimated to have died in the Mediterranean in 2016, according to the latest International Organization for Migration (IOM) report, compared to 3,777 in 2015. Moreover, November’s 546 deaths topped those recorded in November of 2015 by 465 victims, a six-fold increase.

The bad weather that has been blamed for the increasing death toll does not appear to have deterred the smugglers transporting the asylum seekers, indicating that the upcoming harsh winter months could be particularly lethal.

“From the first testimonies that we collected so far, it seems that the migrants were forced on board, even though they were clearly afraid of the rough seas. It was extremely dangerous in such bad weather. The rescues were also even more complicated under these conditions,” said Flavio Di Giacomo, a spokesperson for the IOM Coordination Office for the Mediterranean in Rome.

Refugees trying to cross the sea to reach southern European countries are perishing in record numbers, despite Brussels striking a controversial deal with Ankara, in which Turkey agreed to boost efforts to combat human smuggling and host refugees on its soil in exchange for financial aid and political benefits.

NATO has also launched a mission to patrol Libyan waters and intercept smuggler boats. The North African country, which served as an obstacle to illegal immigration and was a major job provider in the region, has turned into a hub for human trafficking since a US-led alliance helped rebels oust strongman Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

The refugee crisis, which became acute last year, is one of the most serious challenges for the European Union at the moment. It has prompted the rise of Eurosceptic and right-wing sentiments among Europeans, calling the EU’s regional integration project into question.