The death toll of immigrants traveling through the Mediterranean from Libya to Europe, in an apparent rush to get to Europe before their proposed immigration policies kick in, has now surpassed 1,000 for 2018.
In just the past few days, more than 204 people have died after being put into unsafe boats and other vessels by smugglers, with 103 drowning in a shipwreck on Friday, according to Reuters.
“Smugglers are exploiting the desperation of migrants to leave before there are further crackdowns on Mediterranean crossings by Europe,” the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Libya Chief of Mission Othman Belbeisi said in a statement on Sunday.
The number is still less than half of what it was at this time in 2017, however, the increase in deaths in recent weeks signals a desperation to flee before the EU’s stricter border patrol policies take effect.
Between Friday and Sunday, close to 1,000 immigrants were returned to the Libyan border by the Libyan Coast Guard. The coast guard has returned about 10,000 immigrants to shore in 2018 alone, where Libyan authorities transfer them to detention centers.
Among those advocating for stricter border control in Europe is the anti-immigration ruling party in Italy and German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer.
Italy has been turning immigrant boats away from their ports for weeks, and Seehofer gave Chancellor Angela Merkel a deadline to come up with an immigration agreement or he’d start turning immigrants away at the border.
Seehofer has since threatened to resign from his ministry as well as from head of Christian Social Union (CSU) over the immigrant dispute. (RELATED: German Interior Minister Offers To Resign Amid Migration Conflict, Throwing Merkel’s Political Future Into More Uncertainty)
Member states from the European Union (EU) met for a two-day summit from June 26-27, with immigration being the main focus. The leaders came to an agreement on a series of policies and adjustments to strengthen Europe’s external borders, preventing “a return to the uncontrolled flows of 2015 and to further stem illegal migration on all existing and emerging routes,” the European Council conclusion read.
EU leaders also agreed to set up control centers dispersed throughout the 28 nations on a voluntary basis “where rapid and secure processing would allow, with full EU support, to distinguish between irregular migrants, who will be returned, and those in need of international protection,” it says. (RELATED: EU Reaches Deal On Migration, Strengthens External Borders)
The conclusions also addressed secondary movements of those seeking asylum, meaning when asylum seekers travel country to country seeking resettlement or protection elsewhere, in this case somewhere else within the EU.
The council agreed these movements threaten the integrity of the Common European Asylum System, and “member states should take all necessary internal legislative and administrative measures to counter such movements and to closely cooperate amongst each other to that end.”
More than 3,100 immigrants died in 2017 while attempting to cross the Mediterranean. The IOM claimed at the time that the Mediterranean is “by far the world’s deadliest border,” with more than 33,000 immigrants dying at sea trying to enter Europe since 2000.
The other main route, from Turkey to Greece, has largely been shut down.
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