Nearly 250 migrants are feared dead after Mediterranean shipwrecks

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FILE PHOTO: Migrants on a rubber dinghy await rescue by the Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) at dawn in the central Mediterranean in international waters

Migrants on a rubber dinghy await rescue by the Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) at dawn in the central Mediterranean in international waters off the coast of Sabratha in Libya, on April 15, 2017. Photo by Darrin Zammit Lupi/File Photo/Reuters

Nearly 250 migrants may have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea since Friday, according to a preliminary report from the United Nations.

If confirmed, the incidents would raise 2017’s death toll for migrant crossings to 1,309 — a number slightly below the 1,380 deaths recorded during the same period last year.

But far fewer migrations have occurred this year, according to data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Approximately 49,300 refugees have arrived in Europe between January and May 7, 2017, compared to 187,600 for the same time frame a year ago.

The IOM said favorable weather conditions likely led to thousands of attempted migrant crossings over the weekend. A rubber dinghy sank in the Mediterranean on Friday as it tried to cross a particularly dangerous route from North Africa to Italy. Authorities rescued about 50 people, but another 82 were presumed dead. The IOM also reported that many of those rescued showed signs of torture.

On Sunday, another boat sank off the coast of Libya, leaving 163 people feared dead. Rescue operations are still underway.

The vast majority of migrant deaths occur along the route from North Africa to Libya. The International Organization for Migration estimates 1,222 people have died making that voyage this year, compared to 966 over the same period in 2016. Last year, more migrants drowned attempting to reach Greece and Cyprus. Nigerians are the largest nationality of migrants arriving in Italy by sea, followed by Bangladesh, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire and Gambia, according to the International Organization for Migration.

The EU made a deal with Turkey in 2016 blocking migrant entry into Greece, according to Leonard Doyle, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration.

“Migrants are making a much riskier journey in notoriously dangerous waters,” Doyle said.

Doyle added that more Africans are crossing from Libya, and more Syrians want to cross, but the route has been blocked.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi has called for action in light of the recent deaths, saying an increasing number of people are boarding unstable rubber boats that are over capacity and lack satellite phones that could be used to call for help.

“This cannot continue,” Grandi said in a statement. “There is an urgent need to address the root causes which lead people to move, as well as to offer credible alternatives to these dangerous crossings for people in need of international protection, including accessible and safe ways to reach Europe such as family reunification, relocation and resettlement.”

Officials are transferring the survivors to detention centers where they can receive medical attention.

“Many migrants need support after having lost loved ones at sea,” IOM spokeswoman Christine Petré said in a statement. “Having not only risked their lives but perhaps spent all their money and belongings on the chance of reaching a better life and then being rescued only to be transferred to a detention centre must be a horrible and emotionally challenging experience.”

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