Wreath of flowers thrown into the sea during the October 3, 2019 commemoration of 366 victims of a shipwreck that took place on October 3, 2013 off Lampedusa | ANSA/Pasquale Claudio Montana Lampo
Wreath of flowers thrown into the sea during the October 3, 2019 commemoration of 366 victims of a shipwreck that took place on October 3, 2013 off Lampedusa | ANSA/Pasquale Claudio Montana Lampo

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has reported that more than a dozen recent shipwrecks off the coast of Libya and elsewhere have pushed the death toll in the Mediterranean Sea since 2014 to over 20,000.

A tragic shipwreck off the coast of Libya last month and over a dozen other recent fatalities have increased the death toll in the Mediterranean Sea to 20,014 since 2014. That's according to data by UN agency IOM (International Organization for Migration).

"The disappearance and presumed drowning of at least 91 people reported missing aboard a dingy north of Garabulli, Libya, on February 9 is the latest in a series of so-called 'ghost boats' that have vanished en-route to Europe, claiming hundreds of lives," Frank Laczko, Director of IOM's Global Migration Data Analysis Centre, said in a statement published on March 5.

''Two-thirds of the fatalities we have recorded are people lost at sea without a trace. The fact that we have reached this grim new milestone reinforces IOM's position that there is an urgent need for increased, comprehensive SAR capacity in the Mediterranean."

'Nobody looks for your body if you are a migrant'

IOM explained that ghost boats, also called invisible shipwrecks, are usually reported by NGOs such as Alarm Phone and Caminando Fronteras, which receive calls from migrants in distress at sea, as well as family members searching for lost loved ones.

"In dozens of similar cases recorded by IOM, no search and rescue operations are ever carried out, and those on board are presumed to be lost at sea," the agency said. "If you come from a high-income country, efforts will be made to find and identify your body should you go missing. The same simply does not apply if you are a migrant in the Mediterranean," said IOM's Laczko.

"With each passing year, more families find themselves living in limbo, not knowing whether a relative is dead or alive," he added.

In addition to the tragedy off the coast of Libya, IOM reported that the bodies of three young men washed up on a beach in Tunisia last week. The victims have been linked to a ship carrying 18 people that left Algeria on 14 February and was subsequently reported missing.

Percentage of deaths has increased

IOM stressed in the statement that, although the annual number of deaths has decreased every year since 2016, when more than 5,000 lost their lives crossing the Mediterranean, the proportion of deaths compared to attempted crossings rose in both the central and western Mediterranean in 2019 compared to previous years.

"With no end in sight to the tragedy unfolding on the Mediterranean, IOM reiterates that improved and expanded safe, legal pathways for migrants and refugees are urgently needed, both to reduce the incentive to choose irregular channels, and to help prevent the unnecessary and avoidable loss of lives," the organization concluded.
 

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