Death Toll in Crete Capsize Rises

credit: IOM Amanda Nero

By MarEx 2016-06-08 11:06:25

Some 320 migrants and refugees are now feared to have drowned off the Greek island of Crete last week as the deadliest toll on record so far in the Mediterranean keeps climbing, the International Organization for Migration said on Tuesday.

The Greek coast guard said on Saturday that the migrants who survived had told authorities their boat set sail from Egypt with about 350 people. On Friday, Greek authorities said 340 people were rescued after their boat sank and nine bodies had been recovered about 75 nautical miles off southern Crete.

But survivors taken to the port of Augusta, Italy, who were interviewed by IOM staff, reported that the vessel was carrying nearly twice the presumed number of passengers.

"We learned from survivors in Italy, in Augusta, that 648 or 650 men, women and children were on that ship. We heard both numbers from different survivors who took pains to explain that the smugglers made a count twice a day before the departure," IOM spokesman Joel Millman told a briefing.

"We now fear some 320 migrants and refugees remain missing based on testimony received from survivors," IOM said.

At least 10 bodies have been found, Millman said. The exact number of survivors was not clear but appeared to be over 300.

Some 206,400 migrants and refugees have crossed the Mediterranean this year, according to IOM. So far 2,809 deaths have been recorded, against 1,838 during the period last year.

"We are at almost 1,000 more deaths through five months of this year than we were last year and last year was the deadliest we know on record," Millman said.

Most victims were sub-Saharan Africans departing from North Africa, mainly from Libya but also increasingly from Egypt, he said. Only 376 of the deaths this year occurred on the eastern sea route to Greece from Turkey.

"You've now had since the start of 2014, when this phenomenon of rising numbers across the Mediterranean happened, 10,000 deaths. That threshold has been crossed just in the last few days which is extremely disturbing," U.N. refugee agency spokesman Adrian Edwards said.

Survivors from the latest boat wreck, which occurred in territory that falls under Egypt's search and rescue jurisdiction, were taken to Italy and Egypt.

"There's also a slightly happier story," Millman said, referring to an Egyptian migrant woman named Mona who survived.

"She was travelling with three children, she thought they had all died. It turns out one of her sons was rescued and went on a different ship to Egypt. The mother is in Italy, the son is in Egypt, and IOM was able to inform the mother on Monday morning that one of her children survived the trip and was safe in Egypt."

IOM Rome spokesperson Flavio Di Giacomo this week reported new arrival numbers for the year from Italy’s Ministry of the Interior. The Ministry notes Eritreans arriving by sea in the period of 1 January through 31 May 2016 comprise the largest group of arrivals, at 6,076, out of a total of 47,851. For the most recent month, the Ministry reports 19,925 arrivals, or nearly half the year’s total so far.  Migrant arrivals in May 2015 were 21,231.

After Eritrea, Nigeria is in second place with 5,967 arrivals. Other important sending countries are The Gambia (3,782), Somalia (3,450), Côte d’Ivoire (3,156), Guinea (2,836), Sudan (2,653) and Mali (2,614).

The number of Syrians decreased from 3,373 in 2015 to 135 in 2016 – demonstrating that the closure of the Balkan route has not yet had any impact on the Mediterranean’s Africa-to-Italy crossing. There has been an increase in Egyptians, however, from 243 in 2015 to 1,815 in 2016.

“Libya is still the main departure point of the majority of migrants, but we are also seeing an increase of numbers of migrants sailing from Egypt,” said Federico Soda, Director of the IOM Coordinating Office for the Mediterranean in Rome.

“Every year arrivals from Egypt represent 10-15 percent of the total, but it is a flow that usually starts with the good weather. This year we have registered arrivals from Egypt also during the first months of the year. They include Egyptians, Somalis, Sudanese and Eritreans.”

According to some testimonies gathered by IOM staff, some of the migrants coming from East Africa also passed through Egypt in order to avoid Libya, which is considered currently too dangerous.

According to Soda, the number of minors is also rising. In 2015 by the end of May 4,566 minors had arrived in Italy by sea. Some 3,058 were unaccompanied. This year there are 7,567, including 7,009 unaccompanied. Nearly half of them (3,274) came from Egypt, Gambia, Guinea, and Côte d’Ivoire, which together only accounted for some 500 of unaccompanied minor arrivals in 2015.