Author: Barbara Surk
It’s not over yet, but 2016 is already the deadliest year on record for refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea, a leading medical charity said in a statement.
At least 4,690 men, women, and children have died while attempting to reach Europe by sailing from North Africa and Turkey this year, which is already nearly 1,000 more than last year, Doctors Without Borders said.
Approximately one in every 41 people who attempted to leave Libya by boat died trying, according to the charity that sent out the statement late Friday.
Smugglers are more ruthless than ever and the boats they are using to ferry people across the sea are of the worst quality. They use ever more ragged wooden boats or single-use rubber dinghies that are wholly unsuitable for the crossing and are carrying far more people than they are designed to.
“Despite the shocking figures and the immense loss of life, the European response in the Central Mediterranean continues to focus on deterrence measures rather than on saving lives,” the statement said, adding that this has only forced “smugglers to operate even more recklessly.”
People rescued have told the charity they had been kept in caves, ditches, or holes in the ground for days or even weeks before being forced onto a boat and sent out to sea. Survivors of the journey also tell stories of executions, violence, torture, and sexual abuse.
Intercepting boats leaving Libyan waters is not a solution, the charity said, warning the EU that is leading the operation, that preventing people from leaving Libya “condemns them to further ill-treatment and physical, sexual, financial, and psychological abuse.”
Doctors Without Borders have seen the recklessness first hand, since they have had three teams aboard three search-and-rescue boats that worked in the Mediterranean Sea in partnership with another charity, SOS MEDITERRANEE.
From the start of operations in April through the end of November, these three teams directly rescued 19,708 people from overcrowded and often sinking boats and assisted another 7,117 people with medical care and safe transfer to port, the statement said.