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Migrant Deaths Increase In Dangerous Year On Mediterranean


The route that migrants and refugees are taking to get across the Mediterranean and into Europe is getting deadlier. So far this year, more than 3,000 people have died at sea, most of them from drowning. That's up from just under 2,000 this time last year. These numbers come from the International Organization for Migration. Federico Soda is director of the IOM's Mediterranean office, and we have reached him by Skype in Rome. Welcome to the show.

FEDERICO SODA: Thank you, and thank you to your listeners as well.

MCEVERS: Why is this route getting deadlier? What is changing?

SODA: Well, a couple of things are changing. One is the methods that are being used are more and more dangerous. And also there have been some reported changes in the routes as well - longer and therefore more dangerous routes, also. We can account for almost 1,500 of the fatalities this year to about four incidents. So really what we're seeing is very big accidents that cause a high number of fatalities.

MCEVERS: When you say methods, what do you mean? What are these different methods...

SODA: Well...

MCEVERS: ...That people are trying?

SODA: So for example, these accidents that have involved 300 or 400 people or perhaps even more are a result of migrants being put on large but very unseaworthy wooden boats. And also the rubber dinghies that they're traveling on tend to be not just, you know, flimsy but also larger. And so you know, more people on boats, and when accidents happen, it means more fatalities.

MCEVERS: How can governments and NGOs do a better job of trying to prevent these deaths?

SODA: I mean, the starting point in the immediate term has to be the life-saving operations, the rescue at sea. Obviously we cannot accept that thousands of people are dying in the Mediterranean. However, just, you know, plucking people out of the water is not going to be the sustainable solution.

We need to find alternatives. We need legal channels for safe migration not just for those that are entitled to international protection, not just the refugees but also for migrants that can contribute to European economies, labor markets. And I think we need to be looking, really, at the future. I mean this is going to be something that we can expect to continue for decades.

MCEVERS: You've been at some of the landing points when these migrants make the, you know - have successfully made the crossing. What is your sense of how much people really understand the risks when they start off on these journeys?

SODA: Well, some of them have no alternatives, and I think those individuals are perhaps better informed. They are trying to reach communities that already exist in Europe or, indeed, relatives.

And then I think there's a whole other group of mostly but not exclusively young men traveling on their own, looking for work opportunities and basically a better future. And I think they're easily manipulated by smugglers. They're easily sold false information about not only what the journey will be like but what they can expect at the other end.


SODA: And those two worlds - the expectations and the reality - are often very, very different.

MCEVERS: Federico Soda is with the International Organization for Migration based in Rome. We reached him by Skype. Thank you very much for your time.

SODA: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.