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Dublin: 16°C Sunday 20 June 2021

260 people died in the Mediterranean in the past two weeks

Tragedies at sea as people try to escape their war-torn native countries.

Image: AP/Press Association Images


THE MEDITERRANEAN SEA is turning into a death trap for people who are trying to escape conflict in their home countries.

In the past fortnight alone, 260 people have died or been reported missing as they attempted to cross the sea towards Europe.

Overall this year, 800 people have died in the Mediterranean.

According to the UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, the death toll is much higher than in recent years. In 2013, 600 people died, while that number was 500 in 2012.

Survivors report disturbing incidents of mass drownings, suffocations and a suspected multiple stabbing.

Rescued refugees and migrants have also told of handing over their life savings to smugglers, in order to travel in unseaworthy and overcrowded dinghies, packed into a few metres of space without food, water or life jackets.

The journey can take between one to four days, depending on the weather, sea and boat conditions. In several incidents, people were stranded for more than two weeks before being rescued.

The tragedies mark an intensifying crisis on Europe’s shores, as many fleeing Eritrea, Syria and other countries torn by violence seek safety in Europe by risking their lives at sea in the hand of smugglers.

The rapid rise in incidents over recent weeks has prompted calls for urgent measures by European countries to develop a comprehensive plan to prevent such deaths.

The UN has asked for Europe to intensify its efforts to strengthen rescue operations, provide swift access to asylum procedures for those in need of protection and legal alternatives to dangerous sea crossings.

Last weekend, Italian and Maltese authorities rescued 8,000 people.

On 14 July, Italian authorities rescued 12 people 40 miles off the coast of Libya. Survivors said their rubber dinghy had been carrying 121 people. Passengers panicked when it started to deflate on one side, and it capsized. A total of 109 people are missing; with one man saying he lost his pregnant wife during the incident.

On 15 July, 29 people were found dead from apparent asphyxiation in the hold of a fishing boat, and details are emerging of a horrifying incident in which as many as 60 people were stabbed and thrown overboard as they sought to escape from the hold. A total of 131 people are missing and presumed dead from the incident, including a newborn baby. Italian police are reported to have arrested five men on Tuesday in connection with the incident.

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