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IOM: Refugees dying at quicker rate in Mediterranean

IOM: Refugees dying at quicker rate in Mediterranean
From Al Jazeera - September 17, 2017

Refugees and migrants are dying in the Mediterranean at a quicker rate than last year, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has reported, as rights groups raise alarm over abusive conditions in Libya - now the main country of departure.

While fewer refugees have drowned so far in 2017 compared with the same period a year ago, the number of arrivals has fallen drastically - meaning that those who do set off from the Libyan coast have a greater chance of dying.

At least 2,550 refugees and migrants died from January 1 to September 13, 2017, compared with 3,262 from the same period in 2016, the IOM said - a drop of 22 percent.

However, arrivals to Europe have fallen much more sharply from293,806 to 128,863- a year-on-year decrease of 57 percent.

At this year's rate, one refugee dies for every 50 who make it to Europe. Last year, one person died for every 90 who safely reached Europe.

"The rate of deaths for migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean was almost twice as high in 2017 than in 2016," the IOM said in a recent report.

"Despite considerable policy and media attention and increased search and rescue efforts by a range of actors, the death toll in the Mediterranean has continued to riseThe rate of death increased from 1.2 percent in the first half of 2016, to 2.1 percent in the first half of 2017.

"Although fewer migrants crossed the Mediterranean in 2017, a higher percentage of those on this journey perished."

The Central Mediterranean journey, from Libya to Malta or Italy, is now the most active refugee route for refugees.

In March last year, two events slowed the flow of Europe-bound refugees migrating from Turkey and Greece.

First, a string of countries effectively shut the Balkan route which allowed refugees to travel by land from Greece to Western Europe. The EU-Turkey deal also came into effect, pushing hopeful asylum seekers in Greece back to Turkey and closing the Aegean route. Most of those affected were from the Middle East and Asia.

Those attempting to travel to Europe now from Libya are mostly African, Moroccan or Bangladeshi.

"Part of this rise [in the death rate] is due to the greater proportion of migrants now taking the most dangerous route - that across the Central Mediterranean," the IOM report stated.

Smugglers have also made the journey increasingly dangerous, forgoing boats for rubber dinghies, using less fuel and preventing refugees from carrying much drinking water, rights groups told Al Jazeera.

15,000 killed in four years

In the four years since October 2013, when these deadly journeys started making headlines, the Mediterranean crossing has claimed the lives of at least 15,000 refugees and migrants, accounting for more than half of the 22,500 refugees and migrants who have died or gone missing globally.

Those figures put into perspective statements by European officials, who have rushed to welcome the fact that fewer bodies are being pulled from the sea or washing ashore recently.

For example, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker made his third State of the Union speech to the European Parliament on September 13, claiming: "We have drastically reduced the loss of life in the Mediterranean."

Juncker did also temper his claim, however, by calling on Europe to "urgently improve migrants' living conditions in Libya", and acknowledging the "inhumane" conditions at detention centres.

"Fewer departures from Libya mean more people in abusive situations in Libya itself," Judith Sunderland, associate director for Europe atHuman Rights Watch(HRW), told Al Jazeera.

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