The first few weeks of 2017 are proving to be just as bleak as 2016 was for those seeking a better life in other parts of the world. Far fewer migrants are making the trek from the Middle East and Africa to Europe but many more are dying en route.
As of Jan. 15, 2,914 migrants and refugees had already arrived in Europe, for the most part by sea, according to the International Organization for Migration. That’s almost 10 times fewer than in the same time frame last year, when more than 23,000 made the same trip.
And there could be many more that haven’t yet been accounted for.
“This fatalities figure is considered low by IOM’s Missing Migrants Project, which is investigating reports that surfaced over the weekend that would add at least 200 deaths to the total,” an IOM statement said on Tuesday.
Authorities are investigating a shipwreck that capsized on Saturday about 30 miles off the coast of Libya. The boat could have been much larger than originally thought, the IOM statement said, which is what would bring up the death toll. Only four people survived.
“We still do not know the nationalities or if there were women or children on board,” said Federico Soda, director of the IOM’s coordination office for the Mediterranean. “It is a tragic start to the new year.”
Authorities also found three migrants who had died from hypothermia in a dinghy during a separate rescue operation, the statement added.
On land, so far this year, authorities have already found the bodies of two migrants. They were attempting to cross the border between Turkey and Greece and died of hypothermia. One was found buried in snow after most likely wading through the Evros river in sub-zero temperatures.
These tragic figures are a continuation of a trend that was solidified in 2016 ― a record number of migrants and refugees died at sea, even though the total number of people making the perilous crossings was way down compared to the year before.
“Mass migration to Europe isn’t going to end – not for decades,” IOM director general William Lacy Swing said in a Guardian op-ed.