Tue, Sep 04, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Sea crossings down, but risk is up: UN

BACK TO NAUGHT:As immigrants are increasingly intercepted on the Mediterranean, more have ended up in the hands of militia and traffickers or enslaved, a UN envoy said

AP, GENEVA

People smugglers are taking greater risks to ferry their human cargo toward Europe as Libya’s coast guard intercepts more and more boats carrying migrants, increasing the likelihood that those on board could die during the Mediterranean journeys, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said.

In a report released yesterday and titled Desperate Journeys, the agency said that even though the number of crossings and deaths has plunged compared to past years, the voyage is more deadly as a percentage of those who venture across.

At least 2,276 people died last year while trying to cross, or one death for every 42 arrivals, the report said.

For the year to date, it is 1,095 deaths, or one out of every 18 arrivals, while in June, the proportion hit one death for every seven arrivals, the agency said.

On the central Mediterranean route so far this year, there have been 10 separate incidents in which 50 or more people died — most after departing from Libya — and seven of those incidents have been since June alone, UNHCR said.

“The reason the traffic has become more deadly is that the traffickers are taking more risk, because there is more surveillance exercised by the Libyan coast guards,” UNHCR Special Envoy for the Central Mediterranean Vincent Cochetel said. “They are trying to cut the costs: It costs them more to keep those people here longer in their warehouses, under captivity.”

Libyan authorities intercepted or rescued 18,400 people between August last year and July this year — a 38-percent increase from the same period in 2016 and last year, the report said, adding that arrivals by sea from Libya to Europe plummeted 82 percent, to 30,800 in the latest period.

The agency said a growing worry these days is deaths on land by people trying to get to Libya in the first place, or getting stuck in squalid, overcrowded detention centers, where many get returned there after failing to cross by sea to Europe.

“The problems after disembarkation [is that] those people are sent back to detention centers, and many disappear,” Cochetel said. “Many are sold to militias, and to traffickers and people employing them without paying them.”

He said the drop in departures means that traffickers attempt to “monetize their investment, which means they have to exploit more people. That results in more cases of slavery, forced labor, prostitution of those people — because they [smugglers] want to make money on those people.”

Would-be workers and migrants are still pouring into Libya: Some are fleeing injustice, abuse or autocrats in their home countries further south in Africa. Others are looking for work in the oil industry or agriculture.

“I think you have more deaths on land,” Cochetel said, referring to treks across the desert in Sudan, Algeria, Chad and Niger. “Many people in Libya are reporting having seen people dead in the desert on the way to Libya.”

In Libya, instability continues even seven years after the fall of former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.

French medical aid group Doctors Without Borders on Friday said that fighting between rival militias in Tripoli has endangered the lives of people trapped there and worsened humanitarian needs — especially at migrant detention centers.

Cochetel said Europe — where some countries have shown “appalling” squabbles about who would take in rescue ships carrying migrants — should look at the root causes of such journeys.

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