16 Sep 2014
Refugees and migrants risk their lives travelling from Africa to Europe in over-crowded and unseaworthy vessels to escape persecution and violence, or simply to find a better life. UNHCR/A.Di Loreto
As many as 700 migrants are feared to have drowned in the past week, after their vessels ran aground and sunk in the Mediterranean sea, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
In one of the incidences, IOM says at least 500 migrants drowned after their boat was deliberately sunk by human traffickers.
Two Palestinian men from Gaza who survived the ordeal told investigators that several hours after the boat left the Egyptian port of Damietta on 6 September, there was a violent confrontation after the traffickers demanded the migrants board another boat.
It was after the migrants declined to change to a vessel they considered un-seaworthy that the enraged human traffickers rammed and sank the boat.
IOM says if the survivors accounts are confirmed, this will be the worst ship wreck of migrants in years.
The organisation says the risks migrants are willing to take seeking better opportunities in Europe reflect their desperation and that the international community cannot keep abandoning them to their fate.
Joel Millman from IOM says up to 3,000 migrants have died this year trying to cross the Mediterranean sea.
“This is a growing concern and we are getting reports for the last few weeks of migrants in terrible conditions in Libya, principally held in warehouses, held in secret houses and being forced literally at knife point to get on boats that they do not feel are sea worthy. We’ve had victims found with stab wounds, we’ve heard about people who have died from asphyxiation. It strikes us as a kind of frenzy principally driven by the lawlessness of the Libyan coastal cities. To us this does not seem like a smuggling operation, it feels more like a kidnapping.”
IOM says it was also investigating a report that 200 migrants are missing and presumed dead in another boat tragedy off the Libyan coast.
Patrick Maigua, United Nations, Geneva.