More than 700 migrants fleeing Africa and the Middle East have died over the past week, as the boats they were on sank for a variety of reasons, the International Organization for Migration reported on Monday. This brings the number of migrants who lost their lives in 2014 to 2, 900.
Some 500 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea last week when their boat was rammed off the coast of Malta by human traffickers in what was described by the IOM as “mass murder.”
“If this story, which police are investigating, is true, it would be the worst shipwreck in years … not an accident but a mass murder, perpetrated by criminals without scruples or any respect for human life, ” said the IOM statement.
According to three survivors, all Palestinians fleeing from Gaza, their group of Syrian, Palestinian, Egyptian and Sudanese migrants was ordered by traffickers to board a smaller vessel after setting out from the Egyptian port city of Damietta. The group refused, saying the boat was too small, and the traffickers used another vessel to ram the migrants’ boat, causing it to sink.
Carlotta Sami, a spokeswoman for the U.N. high commissioner for refugees in Rome, said at least four other vessels on their way to Europe sank over the weekend – one sailing from Egypt and three from Libya – bringing the number of dead and missing migrants in just this past week to at least 750.
The Ma’an news agency identified the Palestinian survivors as Mohammad Awadallah, Ibrahim Awadallah, and Mamoun Daghmash. Daghmash is receiving treatment in a hospital in Malta. Tawil said in a statement that a Maltese helicopter transported the three survivors in addition to several bodies.
“Two survivors brought to Sicily told us that there had been at least 500 people on board. Nine other survivors were rescued by Greek and Maltese ships, but all the rest appear to have perished, ” an IOM spokesman told AFP.
According to IOM, more than 20 thousand human beings have drowned in the Mediterranean in the past twenty years, as more Africans and Middle Easterners are trying to reach Europe, fleeing raging conflicts at home.
On Sunday, UN special envoy and movie star Angelina Jolie, visited a naval center in Malta and met a Syrian couple whose three children perished on the high seas.
“We all need to wake up to the scale of this crisis, ” Jolie said. “There is a direct link between the conflicts in Syria and elsewhere and the rise in deaths at sea in the Mediterranean. We have to understand what drives people to take the fearful step of risking their children’s lives on crowded, unsafe vessels; it is the overwhelming desire to find refuge.”