AT least 441 migrants have died in the Central Mediterranean in the first quarter of this year.
This is the highest on record since 2017, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), whose Missing Migrants Project documented the deaths, disclosed.
IOM reported that the increasing loss of life on the world’s most dangerous maritime crossing comes amidst reports of delays in state-led rescue responses and hindrance to the operations of NGO search and rescue (SAR) vessels in the central Mediterranean.
The figures are likely an undercount as the Missing Migrants Project is also investigating several reports of boats reported missing, with no records of survivors.
The fates of more than 300 people aboard those vessels remain unclear.
“The persisting humanitarian crisis in the central Mediterranean is intolerable,” said IOM Director General, António Vitorino. He fears that with more than 20 000 deaths recorded on this route since
2014, these deaths have been normalised.
“States must respond. Delays and gaps in State-led SAR are costing human
lives,” Vitorino said.
Delays in state-led rescues on the Central Mediterranean route have reportedly been a factor in at least six incidents this year, leading to the deaths of at least 127 people.
The absence of response to a seventh case is said to have claimed the lives of at least 73 migrants.
On March 25, the Libyan Coast Guard reportedly fired shots in the air as NGO rescue ship, Ocean Viking, was responding to a report of a rubber boat in distress.
Separately, on March 26, another vessel, the Louise Michel, was detained in Italy after rescuing 180 people at sea. The Geo Barents was detained in February and subsequently released.
Over the Easter weekend, 3 000 migrants reached Italy, bringing the total number of arrivals so far this year to 31 192 people.
The Italian Coast Guard this week, Tuesday, rescued a vessel carrying roughly 800 people more than 200 kilometers southeast of Sicily.
Another ship with around 400 migrants was reportedly adrift between Italy and Malta for two days before being reached by the Italian Coast.
Mostly departing from Libya, migrants cross the Mediterranean in search of better economic fortunes in Europe.
– CAJ News