The United Nations' International Organization for Migration (IOM) said 154,609 migrants and refugees have reached Europe by sea since the beginning of this year, and a total of 2,965 have lost their lives at sea during the Mediterranean crossing.
In just four days last week, more than 2,560 migrants were rescued, with 34 bodies recovered and about 50 people missing, including what are believed to be 26 Nigerian women among the victims, IOM said. Figures from recent days show a reversal, perhaps only temporary, of the downward trend in arrivals to Italy in recent months from Libya.
"It is more difficult than ever to forecast the trend right now," said Federico Soda, director of the IOM Coordination Office for the Mediterranean, cited in a statement published in Geneva.
Tragedy on Sunday
The most intense moment in recent days was on Sunday morning in Salerno, when the Spanish Navy ship Cantabria brought the bodies of 26 women to port, together with 402 migrants who were rescued in four different operations. The Salerno prefect has opened an investigation to understand the circumstances surrounding the women's deaths. The bodies were recovered in two different operations.
On November 3 the Cantabria rescued 64 people at sea after their rubber dinghy sank, and recovered the bodies of 23 Nigerian women. It is believed that there were a total of 140 on board the rubber dinghy before it sank. During a separate operation, the Italian Navy ship Bergamini found the bodies of three women aboard a rubber dinghy carrying 139 migrants, who were transferred to the Cantabria. A few days earlier, the Italian Coast Guard found another eight bodies aboard a rubber dinghy with a total of 150 people aboard. "This tragedy affects a group of people particularly at-risk," Soda said. "It is very likely that these girls were, in fact, victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation," he said.
80 percent of Nigerian girls arriving in Italy victims of traffickers
He said a recent IOM report estimated 80 percent of Nigerian girls arriving in Italy by sea may be victims of trafficking. The number of Nigerian women who have reached Italy in the past three years has grown from 1,500 in 2014 to more than 11,000 in 2016, with the women increasingly younger and sometimes even underage, Soda said. "We are also heading into a season of the year when the weather will be less predictable and the seas more dangerous," Soda said, adding that the highest fatality rates occur during winter. "This year, this coincides with fewer active rescue operations in the Mediterranean, as many NGOs have suspended their operations," he said.