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240 Refugees Drown in the Mediterranean in One Week

(Author: Libyan Gazette Editorial Staff)

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240 refugees drowned in the Mediterranean in four separate incidents this week as they attempted to cross over to Europe from Libya.

On Tuesday night, a boat carrying refugees capsized causing the death of 100 migrants and 130 others still missing, according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). At least 10 people are confirmed dead from two other recent incidents.

This week’s deaths in the Mediterranean raises the total number of deaths this year to a new record of 4,500, 20 percent more than last year.

15 refugees were rescued by an oil tanker after staying afloat by holding onto a piece of their sunken ship for 10 hours on Sunday. Nine of them remain in the hospital, said Losto Ibba, a spokesperson for the UNHCR.

Mass migration of refugees between Libya and Italy rose significantly after Turkey became a dead end for refugees because of an agreement Turkey signed to take back refugees attempting to cross over to Greece.

So far this year, over 165,000 refugees crossing the Mediterranean from Libya made it to Italy. By the end of the year, the number of refugees that arrived in Italy is expected to reach 170,000 refugees.

The increasing number of refugees attempting to cross over to Europe despite the rising death toll is a reason why some are arguing that Europe should provide refugees with safer and more legal routes to Europe, said Ibba.

“Without alternative ways to reach Europe, refugees will always try to reach safety in dangerous ways,” added Ibba. “That’s why it’s so important to expand legal pathways for refugees, including humanitarian admissions, family reunification programmes, private sponsorship, and student visas for refugees. At the same time it’s also important to support the countries of origin and transit, and to keep up search-and-rescue missions, without which the death toll would be even higher.”

However, Europe is attempting to resolve the refugee crisis by providing aid to African nations, despite the fact that some African countries, such as Libya, are in a weak and fragile state.

The EU also attempted to tackle the issue by intercepting and arresting smugglers. However, smugglers began avoiding being locked up by cramming refugees on rubber dinghies that the refugees can operate themselves.

The switch in boats caused the number of refugees drowning to increase since the rubber dinghies were much weaker than the fishing boats the smugglers had used.

Most of the refugees heading to Europe from Libya come from Nigeria, Sudan, Eritrea and Gambia. The African refugees embark on the dangerous and risky trip to Europe in hopes of fleeing corruption, violence and poverty.

Libya’s lack of security and political instability has left its borders unprotected and prone to the illegal activity of human smugglers. After the fall of deposed dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Libya has been struggling to protect its borders and establish a sense of order in the country.

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