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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Emmanuel Macron seeks extra EU funding to tackle migration crisis | World news

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, is hosting a “major European powers summit” on Libya also attended by three African nations, in an attempt to raise more funds to tackle the migration crisis.

The EU has struggled to agree on a coherent answer to the influx of migrants fleeing war, poverty and political upheaval in the Middle East and Africa, and the crisis is testing cooperation between member states.

The mini-summit in Paris provides a chance for the major European powers to coordinate their Libyan policy after individual countries, especially France and Italy, started to mount separate initiatives to create political unity in Libya.

Macron wants the EU to offer an extra €60m (£55.5m) to help African countries handle asylum seekers who have returned from Europe and to prevent further migration flows.

Over the summer, Macron sought to take the initiative on managing the flow of migrants crossing the Mediterranean from Libya, mainly into Italy. He proposed hotspots in Africa to handle asylum requests.

European and African allies questioned the viability of such centres and an official from the Élysée Palace said on Monday the idea was no longer under discussion.

“The hotspots announcement was nonsense and neither Chad nor Niger were consulted beforehand,” a west African official said. “Macron is trying to make up for that mistake.”

Although the number of migrants reaching Italy from Libya by sea dropped by nearly 70% in July and August compared with the same months last year, it is felt the numbers could easily rise again without further measures.

There has been a small increase in flows from Morocco to Spain, a point of concern for the Spanish government dealing with sensitive public opinion in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Barcelona earlier this month.

The fall in the number of refugees leaving Libya raises questions about the management of the makeshift camps where those still seeking to reach Europe are being held either before attempting the perilous Mediterranean voyage or after being turned back by the Libyan coastguard.

The Paris summit is expected to propose a stronger role for the UN in the administration of the Libyan detention camps and endorse extra cash for countries such as Niger and Chad from which many of the migrants on the Libyan shoreline originate.

The four European leaders attending the summit are the Italian prime minister, Paolo Gentiloni, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, and Macron himself. The three African countries taking part are Libya, Niger and Chad.

The UK – despite leading the military engagement that led to the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and the subsequent power vacuum – is not among the attendees, a possible sign of Britain’s gradual marginalisation ahead of Brexit.

The foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, visited Tripoli last week, but the bulk of the diplomatic work on reaching a political solution in Libya has been left to the former colonial power Italy, or to France.

The political crisis in Italy over migration continues, with clashes at the weekend in Rome between migrants and police over living conditions.

The total number of migrants who reached Italy from Africa between January and 23 August this year was 98,072, according to the International Office for Migration (IOM), the UN migration agency, a fall of only 7,000 from the same period last year.

But this small drop masks a collapse of more than 70% in the number of migrants reaching Italy in July and August. The IOM figures show 14,177 African migrants reached Italy by sea in between 1 July and 20 August, compared with 45,000 over the same period last year. The figures for August alone are likely to show a fall of more than 75% on August 2016.

But the IOM estimates the number of people reaching Spain from Africa is starting to increase, exceeding 8,300 by 9 August, higher than the total number of migrants that reached Spain during the whole of 2016.

Although the Italian government is taking some credit for the sudden decline in the number of migrants reaching its shores, the fall appears to precede implementation of its tough measures, which include a restrictive code of conduct for NGO ships patrolling outside Libyan coastal waters, as well as stronger efforts by the Libyan coastguard to turn the smugglers’ rafts back. It is possible that changes in the power dynamics in key Libyan ports had already made it more difficult for the smuggling networks to operate.

The Italian government has been providing help to the political leadership in key ports such as Sabratha, west of Tripoli, and this in turn could be seen as an incentive to local militia to forgo people smuggling in return for western grants.

But the decline in numbers reaching Europe may lead to tens of thousands becoming stranded in camps in north Africa, with little oversight by the weak Libyan government.

The Paris summit will nevertheless welcome the NGO code of conduct, as well as measures by African countries to do more to police migration flows.

In a further sign that European leaders are starting to look at the root cause of the crisis, the Italian interior minister, Marco Minniti, met 14 Libyan mayors for a second time on Saturday to talk to them about their needs, including funds to ensure there were economic alternatives to human trafficking.

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‘We would rather die than stay there’: the refugees crossing from Morocco to Spain | World news

On the hilltops of Tarifa, the Spanish city that faces Morocco across the Strait of Gibraltar and mainland Europe’s southernmost point, gusts of wind power the turbines dotting the landscape.

For the surfers who pack the city’s hotels, the wind is a welcome sign of challenging waves. But for the Spanish coastguard and NGOs, the gusts are a warning that the record numbers of migrants and refugees attempting to cross the 10-mile strait are in grave danger.

The number of refugees and migrants risking the sea journey between Morocco and Spain has been rising sharply, and last week was an exceptionally busy one for rescuers.

On Wednesday, Salvamento Marítimom, Spain’s maritime safety and rescue agency, together with the Spanish Red Cross rescued nearly 600 people from at least 15 different vessels off the coast of Tarifa – the largest figure for a single day since August 2014, when about 1,300 people landed on the Spanish coast in a 24-hour period.

Migrants arrive on board a Spanish maritime rescue boat at the port of Tarifa



Migrants arrive on board a Spanish maritime rescue boat at the port of Tarifa. Photograph: Marcos Moreno/AP

Most attempt the crossing using paddle boats, but others use jetskis, inflatable vessels and rickety fishing boats. According to Frontex, the EU’s border agency, more migrants are dying at sea this year than in 2016. And most who continue to cross know the risks they are taking.

“We prefer to die than to stay there. Death happens once but we prefer to risk our life than stay there,” said Abdou, 29, of the ethnic Amazigh community in the impoverished northern Rif region of Morocco, where hundreds of people have been arrested after recent protests against the state. He was rescued last week along with seven others from an inflatable Zodiac boat they had bought for €4,000 – a cheaper option that avoids the need to pay people-smugglers for passage.

Zakaria, 30, said he was saved by a helicopter last week after coastguards spotted him and others attempting to cross the choppy waters in another Zodiac boat. “I was afraid. If the helicopter didn’t come we would have died,” he said.

Recent clampdowns on routes to Europe via Libya have led to the increase in attempts to reach the continent via Morocco. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has said the number of people arriving in Spain by sea this year is likely to outnumber the number arriving in Greece.

According to IOM, 11,849 irregular migrants and refugees reached Spain by sea between 1 January and mid-August. A further 3,500 have made it to two Spanish enclaves in north Africa, Ceuta and Melilla, the only EU land borders with Africa.

Though Spain’s numbers are dwarfed by those of Italy, which has seen 97,376 arrivals so far this year, there is significant pressure on Spanish authorities to make sure it can protect, register and accommodate those arriving on its shores.

Concerns are also growing over the potential for militants to exploit migrant routes into Europe in the wake of terror attacks in Nice, Brussels and most recently Barcelona – all claimed by Islamic State.

Rosa Otero, of the UN’s refugee agency in Spain, said the country was not yet in an emergency situation, particularly when compared with Italy, but authorities were struggling to cope.

“Given the current rise … there are no adequate structures and procedures in place to deal with more arrivals and to swiftly identify international protection and other protection needs,” she said, adding that the shortcomings left migrants – especially children – vulnerable to traffickers.

Every day, between three to four dark green buses marked Guardia Civil arrive in Tarifa to transfer new arrivals to the nearby city of Algeciras, where the Centro de Internamiento de Extranjeros (the alien internment centre) is located. Most arrivals are originally from the west African countries of Nigeria, Guinea and Ivory Coast.

The Red Cross, one of many NGOs active in Algeciras, provides asylum seekers with food three times a day and a place to sleep. On Saturday the centre’s rooms were packed with children using computers. Women washed clothes outside.

Abdou was one of the men being housed at the Red Cross facility. He said the thought of the trip across the Strait of Gibraltar had frightened him, but he had been determined to make it.

“What is important is that I’ve left Morocco, nothing else is important. We had a lot of fear, because the sea was sometimes peaceful, sometimes not,” he said. “There’s war. The state of Morocco has conflict with [the Amazigh] people. It’s not like Syria but they put us in jail for political reason. There’s no right[s], no economy, nothing.”

Two brothers, 28 and 19, and their two cousins, both 21, were among those rescued on Wednesday. Like Abdou, they too belong to the Amazigh community.

Last month their city, al-Hoceima on the northern edge of the Rif mountains, was the scene of a million-man march. Moroccan security guards used batons and teargas to quell protesters. Human Rights Watch said at least 185 people had been arrested in connection with the protests and at least 46 of them had been sentenced to 18 months in jail after forced confessions.

The hand of a Moroccan Amazigh refugee, scarred after being beaten by Moroccan police



The arm of a Moroccan Amazigh refugee, scarred after being beaten by Moroccan police. Photograph: Saeed Kamali Dehghan for the Guardian

The four men made the six-hour, 105-mile journey from Plaga Soaan in el-Hoceima to Motril, on Spain’s south coast, on one jetski. They were kept in custody for two days upon their arrival before being taken to the Red Cross in Algeciras.

Those seeking asylum in Spain can wait anything from six months to two years to receive a decision, and a growing backlog means the processing time is getting longer. Local police say local temporary detention centres are so overwhelmed by the number of asylum seekers that they are relying on NGOs to help find accommodation.

Albert Bitoden Yaka, a centre coordinator at Fundación Cepaim in Algeciras, which shelters refugees and migrants in eight different houses in the city, agreed there was a lack of resources to deal with the new arrivals.

“In my opinion, I think the authorities and European states are proving to be inefficient when it comes to addressing this phenomenon, especially the arrival of refugees,” he said.

The Guardian visited one Fundación Cepaim house on Saturday, where seven refugees were sheltered in four rooms in a flat in a large residential block. Residents receive monthly payments of €50 to spend as they wish and €170 for food, until Spanish authorities reach a decision on their asylum application.

“Algeciras is a city of more than 120 nationalities, they know how important it is to live together. It is in moments of like this [after the Barcelona attack] that we realise the impact of having experience in diversity to prevent hostility,” Yaka said.

Larri, a 22-year-old English-speaking refugee from Ghana, lives in a Cepaim house. He said he first tried to reach Europe via the Libya-Italy route, but nearly died when the boat carrying 35 people capsized an hour after their departure.

Larri



Larri: ‘Here, it’s 100% better than Ghana.’ Photograph: Saeed Kamali Dehghan for the Guardian

“Only 12 people survived, the rest all died before our eyes, among them children and women,” he remembered. “I swam and caught the boat, until the next day fishermen came and saw us. They went back and brought help. We were crying, they went back, people came with a boat. I was in sea for one day until 11am.”

Undeterred, Larri travelled to Morocco in an attempt to reach Spain across the strait. He said he belonged to Ghana’s Bimoba ethnic group, which is fighting a long-running conflict with the rival Konkomba group. He had left Ghana for Libya as soon as he finished junior high school, in search of a better life.

“I didn’t know Libya was also fighting,” he said. He worked in Libya for three years before going to Morocco, where he paid 1,000 dinars (£82) to get on a dinghy with women and children.

“In this weather, a lot of people die,” he said. “It’s up to God, some people don’t reach, some people reach. The moment you’re in the boat, you’re selling your life, but there’s no solution. [The] only solution [is to] pray God to save you, [to] reach the place, but it’s not easy to enter this sea.”

Asked whether it was worth taking the risk, he said: “Here, it’s 100% better than Ghana. I was suffering, sometime beaten up on my way from Niger to Libya. When I see everything now that I’m in Europe, it was 100% worth taking the risk.”

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The Guardian view on the return of the migrant boats: Europe’s problem | Editorial | Opinion

High summer is migrant season in the Mediterranean. In rising numbers, men, women and children set off in the flimsiest of craft for Italy. So far this year, according to the International Organization for Migration, at least 2,000 people have drowned in the attempt. This is made all the worse by the equivocation and even the hostility of EU states which make little show of solidarity; today Austria announced it was ready to send troops and tanks to stop migrants crossing the border from Italy. The Mediterranean is already the world’s worst maritime cemetery. Italy, which finds itself on the receiving end of this migration, urgently needs more European support than is currently on offer. Lest anyone doubt it, this applies to the UK government too: last year, only 13,000 asylum claims were granted.

The numbers are not as staggering as they were, but this year’s migration crisis is no less tragic and no less diplomatically fraught. The number entering Europe by sea so far is 100,000, half last year’s number for the same period. Four-fifths of them arrived in Italy. Migrant centres are overwhelmed. The Italian government says the situation is “unbearable”. Last week it threatened to close its ports to ships used by NGOs to rescue migrants. It wants other coastline states – Spain and France – to offer points of arrival. A flurry of EU meetings – with another one due on Thursday in Tallinn – has so far produced little concrete help, while a proposed EU “code of conduct” for NGOs risks limiting their action. NGOs are furious that their humanitarian work has been described as creating a “pull factor”: they say that is finger-pointing rather than tackling the real issues.

It is to Italy’s credit that, in 2013, it became the first European country to launch a life-saving operation, Mare Nostrum. Since then, search and rescue operations have been internationalised. But little has been done to make the welcoming effort a genuinely Europe-wide one. Refugee relocation plans have been more of a concept than a reality. To date, an EU plan originally intended for tens of thousands has led to the resettlement of only 7,354 people from Italy. Yet, although Italy’s frustration is understandable, blocking humanitarian ships cannot be the right answer. There are more sustainable solutions. It is lack of political will that makes them unattainable. EU migration policies need to be overhauled. Fear of a populist backlash leaves governments wary of creating the safe, legal routes that would allow an orderly processing of asylum claims. Not all migrants are entitled to asylum, but all asylum claims must be fairly examined. Crisis management that centres on border control, even if it is pushed back to Libya’s southern borders, is not enough. Outsourcing the problem to Libya’s coastguards or militias only makes it worse.

The UNHCR says there is “no slowing down” of migrant movements to Libya. That is likely to mean ever larger numbers trying to travel the central Mediterranean route to Europe. Last year’s EU-Turkey agreement managed to stem migrant and refugee movements across the Aegean Sea, but to a large extent it has only displaced the problem. It is no surprise that Libya, a country of three competing governments, plunged in internal chaos, has become a network of ruthless and sometimes murderous traffickers, and the new flashpoint.

The mounting concerns of the centre-left government in Rome may not be motivated only by human tragedy, but also by the fear that uncontrolled migration will help either the far right or the Five Star movement make gains in the coming elections. Europe has a collective interest in thwarting such an outcome, just as it does in upholding its commitment to the principle of asylum. That can only be done through coordination across the EU. Migration is a long-term problem. But with the so-called summer season under way, pledges of solidarity must urgently be translated into action. Italy’s problems are not only Italian but European too.

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