Africa: Migrant Deaths in Mediterranean This Year Top 1,000

The International Organization for Migration reports fatalities from a shipwreck Monday off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa has pushed the migrant death toll on the Mediterranean Sea this year to 1071.

The boat, which capsized seven miles from the coast of Lampedusa, reportedly departed from Tunisia with between 50 and 55 people aboard.  Some of the 22 survivors of the accident testified passengers included 15 Tunisians, as well as West African migrants.

Authorities say the Italian Coast Guard has recovered 13 bodies, all of them women, who came from Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Guinea.  International Organization for Migration spokesman Joel Millman says 17 migrants remain missing, including more women and at least two children.  He says the missing are believed to be nationals of Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Guinea Conakry and Tunisia.

“IOM’s Missing Migrants Project reported Monday that these deaths bring to 15,750 the total number of dead, on this particular central Mediterranean route since 1 January 2014.  This is approximately 10 times the total lost on the Mediterranean’s eastern corridor linking the Middle East to Greece, and almost the same multiple of all deaths on the western route linking North Africa to Spain,” Millman said.

Weather conditions reportedly were bad when the overloaded vessel, an unseaworthy wooden boat, set sail from Tunisia.  U.N. refugee agency spokesman Charlie Yaxley said this tragic loss of life was predictable.  He said, once again, people anxious to reach Europe put their lives in the hands of smugglers and traffickers, whose only interest is to make money.

“We cannot continue to allow these criminals to act with impunity and to allow them to prey on people’s misery and desperation by taking peoples’ services under these false promises,” he said.

Yaxley said the UNHCR is calling for a redoubling of efforts to identify those individuals responsible for this carnage and hold them accountable for their actions.

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