Database of migrant deaths released

2015-05-12 19:29

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Rome - Almost 3 200 migrants were certified dead at Europe's southern borders from 1990 to 2013, researchers from VU University in Amsterdam said on Tuesday, releasing what they say is the first comprehensive database on the subject.

Migrant tragedies happen regularly in the Mediterranean, but death tolls from shipwrecks and other fatal accidents are usually estimated because authorities ignore how many people are missing, and many bodies lost at sea are never found.

"This database underlines decades of indifference of European states. They had this information all the time, but failed to collect it," said one of the people involved in the research, Professor Thomas Spijkerboer.

The 13 Dutch researchers who compiled the Death at the Borders Database searched death certificates in Spain, Italy, Greece, Malta and Gibraltar and saw that the confirmed number of migrant deaths during 1990-2013 was 3 188.

Around 65 children under 10 and a further 190 aged 10-19 were among the recorded casualties.

Researchers worked out that 1 977 people died from drowning, 145 from hypothermia, 116 from injuries or acts of violence, 76 from cardiac arrest, 67 from dehydration, 51 from suffocation, and 756 of unknown causes.

Migrants from North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa made up more than 40% of the deaths, and about the same proportion of victims were of unknown nationality. Researchers found that no name was given to dead migrants in 65% of cases.

The year 2013 was the deadliest, with 477 fatalities, including the 366 from a single shipwreck near the Italian island of Lampedusa. Annual death tolls ranged from 50 to 142 in the 1990s, and from 88 to 247 during 2000-2012.

Many migrants are encouraged to undertake the sea crossing by human traffickers, who can charge high sums of money to place people into overcrowded vessels destined for Europe.

Death count lower

The European Union vowed last month to crack down on trafficking networks, and is seeking a United Nations Security Council mandate for possible military action to seize and destroy their boats.

If the Security Council approves the request in time, EU foreign ministers could give the go-ahead to start planning the mission at their next meeting on Monday, an EU official said on condition of anonymity.

"There are already around ten countries that have signalled their interest to take part," the official said, mentioning Italy, France, Spain and Britain, among others.

The EU action comes in response to a shipwreck last month in which more than 800 migrants are thought to have drowned, making it the worst such incident to date.

Overall, the death count calculated by VU University was much lower than estimates circulated by non-governmental organizations and migrant rights activists, which usually include the missing.

Professor Spijkerboer said a European Migrant Death Observatory should be set up to collect data from 2014 onwards, and suggested that it should be managed by the Council of Europe - a pan-European human rights watchdog backed by 47 nations.

Humanitarian organisations say that migrant deaths in the Mediterranean are intensifying. The International Organisation for Migration reported Monday that 1 829 people died since January in sea attempts to reach Spain, Italy or Greece.

Read more on:    europe  |  migrants

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