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The deadliest border crossing on Earth just claimed another 500 victims

Victims of a shipwreck earlier this year.
Victims of a shipwreck earlier this year.
Tullio M. Puglia

The world's deadliest migration route is the one over the Mediterranean to Europe.

For years, thousands of migrants from the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia have boated across the Mediterranean in an attempt to enter the European Union — and hundreds of them have died. About 20,000 migrants have died en route over the past twenty years, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Now, the IOM is reporting that as many as 500 migrants attempting to sail from Africa to Europe were killed when the traffickers transporting them deliberately wrecked their boat. Yahoo News reports:

According to (two surviving Palestinian migrants who were picked up by a passing ship), Syrian, Palestinian, Egyptian and Sudanese migrants set out from Damietta in Egypt on September 6, and were forced to change boats several times during the crossing towards Europe.

The traffickers, who were on a separate boat, then ordered them onto a smaller vessel, which many of the migrants feared was too small to hold them.

When they refused to cross over to the new boat, the furious traffickers rammed their boat until it capsized, the survivors told the maritime organisation.

The wreck could be the worst atrocity in years, on a crossing that has had its share of atrocities. The IOM believes that 200 more migrants have been killed crossing the Mediterranean in the last several days in other shipwrecks. And in 2013, a ship caught on fire and killed 300 migrants a mile from European shores.

The deadliest year for the deadliest crossing on Earth

Crossing the Mediterranean is much deadlier than crossing from Mexico into the US. The National Foundation for American Policy found that the deadliest year on record for the US/Mexico crossing was 2012, when 477 migrants were killed. That's about 1 of every 1000 migrants apprehended crossing the border illegally.

In 2011, which was the deadliest year for the Mediterranean crossing before this year, 1,500 migrants were killed: 1 in every 50 migrants who crossed. And the IOM's initial estimates for this year indicate that 2014 will be twice as lethal as 2011: they estimate that 3000 migrants have been killed so far making the voyage.

A map created by the Pew Research Center earlier this year shows that these migrants aren't mainly coming from the African countries that border the Mediterranean. They're often coming from places in crisis, like Syria, Mali, and Afghanistan. According to the IOM, the victims of this week's shipwreck fit that pattern: they were Syrian, Palestinian, Egyptian, and Sudanese.

Migrants from these war-torn areas have to cross several countries by land before sailing to Europe — typically to Lampedusa, an island owned by Italy that's closer to Africa than the European mainland — on one of the world's deadliest migrations by sea.


European border patrol doesn't help

Many migrants crossing the Mediterranean hope to apply for asylum once they arrive in Europe, and many of them might have legitimate claims that they're fleeing danger and persecution.


Survivors of the 2013 shipwreck off Lampedusa. Tullio M. Puglia/Getty

But when they're on the boat, they don't have legal status, and Frontex, the European equivalent of the U.S. Border Patrol, is supposed to "push back" any migrant boats they can get to before the migrants arrive on European shores.

The Mediterranean crossing can be deadly, especially in the not-always-seaworthy boats used by traffickers — and that's even if the traffickers don't deliberately sink the boat to avoid detection, as they did in the most recent wreck.

Because the job of Frontex is to push migrants back, it's come under attack for not doing more to keep them safe. Survivors of the 2013 boat fire allege that they saw multiple helicopters circle above them, but no one came to their rescue until they were discovered by Italian fishermen five hours after the boat sank.

Eleven survivors of this wreck were rescued — none of them by Frontex. (Two were rescued by a privately-owned freighter; nine others were rescued by Greek and Sicilian boats.) The rest are presumed to have died.


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