Migrant death toll rises after clampdown on east European borders | World news

More than 22,500 migrants have reportedly died or disappeared globally since 2014 – more than half of them perishing while attempting to cross the Mediterranean, according to a study by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

A clampdown on Europe’s eastern borders has forced migrants to choose more dangerous routes as the death toll in the Mediterranean continues to rise despite a drop in the overall number of arrivals, data compiled by the UN refugee agency shows.

“While overall numbers of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean by the eastern route were reduced significantly in 2016 by the EU-Turkey deal, death rates have increased to 2.1 per 100 in 2017, relative to 1.2 in 2016,” reads the IOM report which is released on Monday. “Part of this rise is due to the greater proportion of migrants now taking the most dangerous route – that across the central Mediterranean – such that 1 in 49 migrants now died on this route in 2016.”

Since 2014, more deaths have been documented on this route than any other migration route in the world. In the first half of this year, the IOM said at least 3,110 migrants have died or disappeared globally, which is lower than the figure in 2016 (4,348), but the risk of dying has increased in the Mediterranean even though fewer migrants crossed into Europe.

“The central Mediterranean route, ending at Lampedusa or the main island of Sicily, accounts only for about a quarter of almost 1.5 million people who have arrived since 2014 on all routes, but for 88% of all migrant deaths in the Mediterranean,” it said.

Last month, Amnesty International criticised Italy for taking measures to keep migrants away from its shores, which it said leads “in their arbitrary detention in centres where they are at almost certain risk of torture, rape and even of being killed”. The IOM’s report also complained about smugglers in Libya and Italy increasingly using less seaworthy vessels.

Jean-Guy Vataux, head of mission in Libya for Médecins Sans Frontières, told the Guardian nearly all the people rescued from drowning in the Mediterranean have been “exposed to an alarming level of violence and exploitation: kidnap for ransom, forced labour, sexual violence and enforced prostitution, being kept in captivity or detained arbitrarily”.

According to Vataux, the majority of migrants in Libya live clandestinely “under the yoke of smugglers or – for the most unlucky – kidnapping organisations”.

He added: “Migrants going through Libya to reach Europe are facing impossible choices: getting on a boat is very risky, many die before they reach the European coast or a rescue ship. Remaining in Libya, whether in detention centres run by the administration or a criminal organisation, exposes them to unbelievable levels of violence and exploitation. There needs to be other options made available very quickly, like safe passage to other Mediterranean countries.”

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Restrictions on the eastern route meant the number of arrivals in countries such as Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia had dramatically dropped. The three countries, which are not a part of the EU border-free Schengen zone, restricted migrants’ access in late 2015.

In the first half of this year, at least seven migrants have died of hypothermia during the winter months in the western Balkans. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has recently published a report warning of the dangers in the route. A mother and son who successfully crossed the Evros river – along the border between Turkey and Greece – both later died of hypothermia.

More than 120,000 people have arrived in Europe by sea so far this year – most departed from Libya bound for Italy, from Turkey bound for Greece or, more recently, from Morocco bound for Spain. About 82% of all migrants were travelling to Italy from Libya. In June, the Italian coastguard rescued about 5,000 people in one day in the Mediterranean.

The IOM report covers the period from January 2014 to the end of June and thus does not reflect the recent developments in Myanmar, where atrocities against the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority has led to an exodus of thousands to neighbouring Bangladesh.

The IOM report, titled Fatal Journeys, has been compiled by the Berlin-based Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC). It is the only existing database on migrant deaths at the global level, collected through various means including official records, medical examiners and media reports.

Ann Singleton, senior research fellow at the University of Bristol’s school for policy studies, said: “For the families left behind it could make a real difference if they are able to find more information on their missing relatives. Better data on migrant fatalities can also help inform policies aimed at reducing migrant deaths.”

Global figures for the first half of 2017 show that northern Africa also had high fatalities and disappearances, with at least 225 recorded deaths. The majority of incidents occurred along routes from western Africa and the Horn of Africa towards Libya and Egypt. Sickness or violence are the main cause of death in those cases.

At least 150 deaths were also recorded in the US-Mexico border crossings since January. “Along the border, irregular migrants avoid coming into contact with authorities in well-patrolled areas and are often forced to cross natural hazards such as the desert of Arizona or the fast-running Rio Grande river,” IOM said. More people have died attempting to cross the border compared with last year despite an ease in border apprehensions of migrants.

Recent clampdowns on the Libya-Italy route have also led to the increase in attempts to reach the continent via Morocco. The IOM has said the number of people arriving in Spain by sea this year is likely to outnumber the number arriving in Greece.

Francesca Friz-Prguda, UNHCR representative in Spain, who recently visited the port cities of Tarifa and Algeciras, where refugees are arriving almost daily after crossing the strait of Gibraltar from Morocco, said Spain was underprepared and lacked an integrated national strategy. More than 14,000 migrants have arrived by sea – a 90% increase compared with last year. Arrivals in Andalusian ports have tripled.

“While this is really not an emergency situation if you compare it to Italy, there are no adequate structures and procedures in place to deal even with the current level, let alone with more arrivals,” she said.

“It’s a myth to assume that people arriving here are all economic migrants, sub-Saharan Africa is one of the most refugee-producing regions in the world, so even statistically there’s a likelihood that these mixed flows are refugees travelling,” she said. “A lot of media have not dealt with the issue in a very responsible way, talking about avalanches and storms, flood, and God knows what – there’s a clearly a perception which doesn’t seem to sufficiently understand that first there are many refugee-producing countries in sub-Saharan Africa.”

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The EU, war, peace, and dictatorships | Letters | World news

John Rigby (Letters, 3 August) challenges the view that the EU and its predecessors have been responsible for maintaining peace in Europe since 1945. Of course, that proposition cannot be proved. But it is true that one of the primary motivations of the founders was precisely that, as a reaction to centuries of conflict with ever varying combinations of allies and enemies, culminating in the two world wars. Compare the aftermath of the first world war – “the war to end all wars” – and consider how differently that might have developed had something similar to the EU been created post-1918.

Mr Rigby cites the slaughter in the Balkans in the 1990s in support of his argument. I would suggest quite the contrary. Former Yugoslavia was not a member of the EU. Had it been, no doubt the tensions between the different groups would still have existed, but there would have been a much greater incentive to resolve them peacefully, like the relatively amicable split-up of Czechoslovakia.
Frank Jackson
Harlow, Essex

Jeremy Paul Dixon (Letters, 3 August) is incorrect when he states that the second world war “ended the west-European dictatorships”. Franco continued in power in Spain until his death in 1975; Salazar’s Estado Novo ruled in Portugal until 1974; Greece was ruled by a military junta between 1967 and 1974. By joining the EU all three countries made a commitment not to return to authoritarian rule.
Harry Eyres
London

Join the debate – email guardian.letters@theguardian.com

Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit gu.com/letters

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Extreme heat warnings issued in Europe as temperatures pass 40C | World news

Eleven southern and central European countries have issued extreme heat warnings amid a brutal heatwave nicknamed Lucifer, with residents and tourists urged to take precautions and scientists warning worse could be still to come.

Authorities in countries including Italy, Switzerland, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia are on red alert, the European forecasters’ network Meteoalarm said, and swaths of southern Spain and France are on amber.

As temperatures in many places hit or exceeded 40C (104F) in the region’s most sustained heatwave since 2003, emergency services are being put on standby and people have been asked to “remain vigilant”, stay indoors, avoid long journeys, drink enough fluids and listen for emergency advice from health officials.

At least two people have died from the heat, one in Romania and one in Poland, and many more taken to hospital suffering from sunstroke and other heat-related conditions. Italy said its hospitalisation rate was 15% above normal and asked people in affected regions only to travel if their journey was essential. Polish officials warned of possible infrastructure failures.

A spokeswoman for Abta, the UK travel trade organisation, reinforced the advice for holidaymakers, saying they should take sensible precautions, keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water, stay out of the sun in the middle of the day, and follow any advice issued by health authorities in specific destinations.

A cyclist waits to cross a road next to a thermometer showing 41C in Valencia, eastern Spain.



A cyclist waits to cross a road next to a thermometer showing 41C in Valencia, eastern Spain. Photograph: Manuel Bruque/EPA

The heatwave, now in its fourth day and expected to last until next Wednesday, follows an earlier spell of extreme temperatures last month that fuelled a spate of major wildfires, exacerbated droughts in Italy and Spain, and damaged crops.

The highest temperature on Thursday was 42C in Cordoba, Spain, and Catania, Italy. Split in Croatia also hit 42.3C on Wednesday. The spell is forecast to peak at the weekend with temperatures of 46C or higher in Italy and parts of the Balkans.

Authorities in Italy, which is suffering its worst drought in 60 years, have placed 26 cities on the maximum extreme heat alert, including Venice and Rome. Many of Rome’s fountains have been turned off, and last week the city only narrowly averted drastic water rationing.

In Florence, the Uffizi art gallery was temporarily closed on Friday when the air-conditioning system broke down. In Hungary, keepers at Budapest zoo cooled down two overheating polar bears with huge ice blocks.

Temperatures along parts of Croatia’s Adriatic coast, including Dubrovnik, were expected to hit 42C during the day. In the Serbian capital of Belgrade there were reports of people fainting from heat exhaustion.

Hot weather map

Highs in Spain, including in popular holiday resorts on the Costa del Sol and on the island of Majorca, are set to reach 43C this weekend, with extreme conditions also forecast in Seville, Malaga and Granada. Ibiza and Mallorca could hit 42C, Spain’s Aemet meteorological service warned.

While Europe’s record high is 48C, set in Athens in 1977, current temperatures are in many places as much as 10-15C higher than normal for the time of year and likely to result in more fatalities, experts have said.

Europe’s record-breaking 2003 heatwave resulted in more than 20,000 heat-related deaths, mainly of old and vulnerable people, including 15,000 in France, where temporary mortuaries were set up in refrigerated lorries.

Such spells of extreme heat in southern Europe could be a foretaste of things to come. French researchers last month predicted summer conditions in some of the continent’s popular tourist destinations could become significantly tougher.

Szeriy, a polar bear at Budapest zoo, has been given blocks of ice to combat the heat



Szeriy, a polar bear at Budapest zoo, has been given blocks of ice to combat the heat. Photograph: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images

Writing in the journal Environmental Research Letters, the scientists said if a similar “mega-heatwave” to that of 2003 were to occur at the end of the century, when average temperatures are widely expected to be noticeably higher after decades of global warming, temperatures could pass 50C.

The researchers noted that climate models suggest “human influence is expected to significantly increase the frequency, duration and intensity of heatwaves in Europe” and said their modelling suggested that by 2100, peak summer temperatures could rise by between 6C and 13C against historical records.

The village of Conqueyrac in the Gard department of France hit 44.1C on two occasions in the summer of 2003, the highest temperature ever recorded in the country, meaning “the record maximum value could easily exceed 50C by the end of the 21st century”, the scientists concluded.

The current extreme temperatures, coupled with strong winds, have fanned wildfires that have already caused more than 60 deaths this summer in Portugal and caused widespread damage in southern France, Greece and Italy.

About 300 firefighters and military personnel were fighting 75 wildfires on Friday in Albania, with firefighters also busy in Serbia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Croatia, Greece and the French island of Corsica.

Children cool off in water on a square in Tirana, Albania.



Children cool off in water on a square in Tirana, Albania. Photograph: Malton Dibra/EPA

In Italy, fires killed a 79-year-old woman in the central Abruzzo region and forced the closure of the main Via Aurelia coastal motorway that runs northwards from Rome to the Italian Riviera.

The country’s winemakers have started harvesting their grapes weeks earlier than usual due to the heat. The founder of the Slow Food movement, Carlo Petrini, said no harvest in living memory had begun before 15 August.

The heatwave is likely to cost Italy’s agricultural sector billions of euros, with as many as 11 regions facing critical water shortages. Olive yields in some areas are forecast to be down 50% and some milk production has fallen by up to 30%.

Bosnian officials said the heatwave and drought had nearly halved agricultural output, which represents 10% of the country’s economic output, and Serbia said its corn production could be cut a third.

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