May 25 to May 31 marked the deadliest week in the Mediterranean Sea so far this year: 1,083 migrants are estimated to have died or gone missing in nine separate incidents. The largest occurred on May 26th, about thirty five nautical miles north of Zuwara, Libya, in which an estimated 500 migrants disappeared, including forty children. Last week’s migrant death toll is second only to that recorded during a week in mid-April 2015, in which 1,229 migrants are estimated to have died in five separate shipwrecks in the Mediterranean. The vast majority of these reported fatalities occurred along the Central Mediterranean route, while ten migrants perished on their journeys along the Eastern Mediterranean route. These incidents included two particularly tragic ones: on April 18th an estimated 800 people died or went missing 120 miles south of Lampedusa, and five days earlier, 400 deaths and disappearances were recorded due to a shipwreck occurred, 80 miles off the Libyan coast.

Weeks with such a high death toll are a dramatic reminder of how people continue to die in large numbers in their attempt to reach Europe. The Central Mediterranean route, between North Africa and Italy, is particularly dangerous –since 2014, more than 20 incidents along this route resulted in over 100 recorded deaths and disappearances each. This route has seen 27% of sea arrivals to Europe since the beginning of 2014, but accounts for 85% of migrant deaths in the Mediterranean during the same period. For every fifty migrants who have attempted the Central Mediterranean crossing since 2014, one has died en route.

The stark difference in terms of the number of bodies that are recovered from the water, depending on the route, should also be noted. In 2016, 80% of the bodies of those who perished in the Eastern Mediterranean have been recovered, whereas less than 10% have been recovered in the Central Mediterranean. This reinforces the fact that the numbers of deaths at sea can never be exact.

In the case of maritime migration, in particular, it is often difficult to determine the total number of people who were on a boat that sank – the only source of information are statements from survivors, who may be traumatized, and are often unsure or unaware of the original number of people on board. This is also why the estimated number of deaths varies between organizations who are present once survivors are brought to shore. IOM continues to be on the ground at the main landing points in Italy, to interview and provide counselling to survivors.

The Mediterranean currently accounts for almost 90% of recorded migrant deaths around the world so far in 2016. Further analysis of migrant deaths in the Mediterranean and globally in 2015 is provided in IOM’s upcoming report, “Fatal Journeys 2015 – Identification and Tracing of Dead and Missing Migrants”, to be released later this month.

Prepared by IOM’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre
International Organization for Migration
Global Migration Data Analysis Centre
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