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Mediterranean Migrant Arrivals Reach 13,924; Deaths: 366

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Switzerland - IOM reports that 13,924 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea in 2017 through 22 February, with over 75 percent arriving in Italy and the rest in Greece and Spain. This compares with 105,427 through the first 53 days of 2016.

IOM Rome reports that over 10,701 migrant arrivals in Italy before the end of February represents a significant increase compared with arrivals in the same period during each of the past two years, when slightly over 8,100 migrants arrived by the end of February. IOM notes that with five days to go in the month, Italian arrivals could be 50 per cent higher than those recorded during the first two months of either 2015 or 2016.

That heightened activity is behind the surging number of fatalities at sea of migrants this year, especially on the Mediterranean’s central route linking Libya to Italy. IOM’s Missing Migrants Project reports an estimated 326 deaths or disappearances of migrants and refugees on this corridor through 22 February, compared with 97 last year, at this time – an increase of over 300 per cent.

Across the entire region, deaths at sea stand now at 366 men, women and children, compared with 425 at this time in 2016. Another factor in these statistics: traffic between Turkey and Greece – which claimed 321 lives during the first 53 days of 2016 – has virtually ceased. This year IOM has recorded just two deaths on the Eastern Mediterranean route.

These data include the death toll reported this week from a boat with as many as 133 passengers on board that foundered off Az Zawiyah, near Tripoli in Sunday (19/2).

According to an IOM source at the scene, the human smugglers stole the craft’s engine and left the vessel drifting, telling passengers that authorities were en route to rescue them. “This is becoming a common tactic,” said IOM Rome spokesman Flavio Di Giacomo. “But when you take an engine from a boat like this, you can no longer treat it as an ‘incident.’ It is homicide.”

IOM believes that, in addition to 80 known fatalities confirmed where the abandoned craft came to shore, another 21 victims remain unaccounted for. IOM staffers are trying to ascertain whether their remains were lost at sea, or they survived and fled inland.

In the days following this tragedy, IOM Libya reported several more fatal incidents along this deadly coastline. On Wednesday (22/2) 15 bodies were retrieved outside the city of Khoms by local authorities. On the same day 110 migrants were rescued off Zuwara, 85 men and 25 women.

On Thursday (23/2) IOM was notified by the Libyan Red Crescent that 69 migrants of various nationalities had been discovered inside a metal container near Khoms. They are believed to have been trapped in the container for four days. Thirteen migrants were reported dead at the scene, including a 13-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy.

Also on Thursday, some 400 migrants in two boats were rescued off Zuwara. These two vessels are said to have been carrying over 180 women and children, including one 10-year-old girl. Finally, IOM Libya spokesperson Christine Petré shared information this morning about a rescue at sea that occurred Thursday off Gasser Khiar (about 90 kilometers east of Tripoli), of 42 migrants (38 men, three women and one two-year-old child). All now are at the Triq Al Shook detention centre.

With these figures, IOM Libya reported Friday that a total of 2,265 migrants had been rescued at sea off Libya since the first of the year, while 131 bodies had been recovered. An unknown number of victims remain missing.