Mediterranean migrants could surge to 500,000 this year: IMO chief

Mediterranean migrants could surge to 500,000 this year: IMO chief

SINGAPORE - Agence France-Presse
Mediterranean migrants could surge to 500,000 this year: IMO chief

AP Photo

The number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean could surge to 500,000 this year, with deaths at sea reaching thousands if no action is taken against the people who traffic them, the head of the U.N.’s maritime agency warned on April 22.

Koji Sekimizu, secretary general of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), called for a multinational effort to ensure not only the safety of the migrants but also to target those who smuggle them out for profit despite the risks.

“This is a very serious issue,” Sekimizu said in a keynote address at Sea Asia, a major maritime conference and exhibition in Singapore.

“It is time to really think about how to stop the very dangerous and unsafe passage of migrants on board small, very unsafe boats. We should take action.”
He said his office was working with other U.N. agencies to establish a database of the people smugglers as an initial step to target them, but would not give any more details.

More than 170,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean into Europe last year, with 3,000 of them perishing at sea, according to Sekimizu. In the latest incident, some 800 people are feared to have died when a boat packed with migrants capsized near Libya on April 19. The victims, including an unknown number of children, were locked in the hold or the middle deck of the 20-meter boat which keeled over in pitch darkness after colliding with a Portuguese container ship answering its distress call.

The United Nations refugee agency said those on board included Syrians, Eritreans and Somalis. “If we do nothing, I think this year we will see half a million of migrants crossing over the Mediterranean and potentially we will see probably 10,000 of deaths if that is the case,” Sekimizu warned.

Italian officials believe there could be up to one million more would-be immigrants to Europe waiting to board boats in conflict-torn Libya.

Many of them are refugees from Syria’s civil war or persecution in places like Eritrea. Others are seeking to escape poverty and hunger in Africa and South Asia and secure a better future in Europe.