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Deaths of migrants trying to reach Spain by sea grow 150% in early 2018

Between January and March, 120 people lost their lives on the Western Mediterranean crossing

A group of 38 immigrants rescued this Tuesday in Tarifa.
A group of 38 immigrants rescued this Tuesday in Tarifa. EFE

Growing numbers of migrants are crossing the Mediterranean in a bid to reach Spain. In the first three months of the year there were 3,345 migrant arrivals by sea, a 38% rise from the same period in 2017, according to a report by the International Organization for Migration, a UN agency.

There has also been a spike in the number of men, women and children who die along the way: there were 120 deaths along the Western Mediterranean route in the first quarter of the year, a 150% rise from the same period last year.

Crossing the Mediterranean has become increasingly deadly

Estrella Galán, CEAR

Estrella Galán, secretary general for the non-profit Spanish Commission to Aid Refugees (CEAR), said that arrivals have nearly doubled so far in 2018 while deaths have “nearly tripled.”

The most common departure points along the Western Mediterranean route are Algeria and Morocco. Throughout 2017 there were 22,103 arrivals in Spain, representing 13% of all migrant arrivals across the Mediterranean (the other main routes are to Italy and Greece).

Although Italy continues to post the highest arrival numbers, 6,894 to April 8, this figure represents a 73% drop from last year, reflecting the agreement signed between Italian and Libyan authorities to curb departures of migrant boats. Meanwhile, Greece has experienced a new spike in arrivals following a temporary drop in the wake of a deal between the EU and Turkey to limit migrant flows.

African migrants rescued off Alborán Island.
African migrants rescued off Alborán Island. EFE

Estrella Galán, of CEAR, said that European governments are pursuing “mistaken policies” that focus on “externalizing borders” and that authorities do not want to “solve the problem and respect human rights.”

In the central Mediterranean, rescue activities by non-profits have been drastically reduced – rescue ships have dropped from 13 to one, said Galán – because authorities are “criminalizing” their work. Most recently, the Italian government seized a ship belonging to the Catalan non-profit organization Proactiva Open Arms, which was accused by prosecutors of encouraging illegal immigration.

Galán said that migrants are at greater risk this year than last. According to her organization’s figures, one in every 27 people who tried to reach Europe by sea drowned this year, compared to one in 34 last year. “Crossing the Mediterranean has become increasingly deadly,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Spanish Interior Ministry offers figures between January 1 and March 15, when there were 2,828 undocumented migrant arrivals, a 45% rise from the same period last year. Authorities located 125 migrant boats in the first quarter of 2018, compared with 85 in 2017. The ministry said it had no data on migrant deaths during their journey to Spain.

Spain’s sea rescue services, Salvamento Marítimo, told EL PAÍS that 2,216 people were rescued in January and February, while 27 were dead or missing.

English version by Susana Urra.

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