More than 1,500 people have died so far in 2018 trying to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean, the UN International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has said, adding that this is the fifth consecutive year that the grim benchmark has been reached.
The vast majority of the 1,504 deaths were drownings that occurred as people tried to cross from Libya to Italy (1,111), according to the data collected for the Missing Migrants Project.
This was followed by 304 deaths on the route to Spain and 89 on the way to Greece.
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In a statement on Friday, the IOM said 304 fatalities were recorded between January and July 25, “far outpacing the 124 recorded in the equivalent period of 2017 – and the 224 recorded as drowned or missing during all of last year”.
The number of people who have arrived in Europe this year is 55,001, a decrease of 50 percent compared with the same period last year.
However, on a per capita basis, 2018 is one of the deadliest years yet because the number of people trying to reach Europe is significantly lower.
Spain more popular
The IOM said that in recent months there was a big increase in the number of people trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Spain instead of Italy.
“Arrivals to Italy trail Spain by almost 3,000; a week ago the gap was less than 200,” the statement said.
“Additionally, 3,125 migrants have attempted to enter Spain irregularly via the country’s African enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta, according to Spanish authorities,” it added.
“With this month’s figures, Spain is the Mediterranean’s most-sought destination for irregular migrants travelling by sea, surpassing Italy and Greece.”
Greece, which was the main destination for many people before the European Union struck a deal with Turkey which halted the number of refugee arrivals, has seen a 50 percent increase compared with the same period last year.
In total, more than 5,000 people have arrived in Greece so far this year.
Italy on the other hand, has seen a dramatic drop in the number of migrants arriving.
More than 640,000 people have reached Italy by boat from Africa in the past five years.
In recent months, Italy’s new populist government has turned away several rescue vessels patrolling the Mediterranean to save refugees crossing the sea from drowning.
Since taking up his post in early June, Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who is also one of the country’s two deputy prime ministers, has pushed the divisive issue of migration to the forefront of the EU agenda by refusing to open his country’s ports to migrant rescue ships.
Under the European Union’s so-called “Dublin rules”, asylum seekers must be processed in the country where they first arrive – usually Italy, Greece or Spain.
In an attempt to reduce the number of refugees trying to reach Europe, the leaders of Italy and France have urged the EU to set up asylum processing centres in Africa to prevent refugees and migrants from undertaking the journey across the Mediterranean, a move widely criticised because of the often dire circumstances in those countries.