By Sami Zaptia.
London, 23 September 2016:
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported today that on 20th September it had helped to repatriate from Libya 160 stranded Burkinabe migrants, including 13 women, 9 children and 4 infants to Burkina Faso.
The repatriation – carried out in close cooperation with the Libyan authorities, the Burkina Faso Embassy in Tripoli and the IOM office in Burkina Faso – was by charter flight from Tripoli’s Mitiga Airport to the Burkinabe capital Ouagadougou, said the IOM.
The report of the repatriation of 160 migrants back to Burkina Faso potentially wishing to cross the Mediterranean from Libya came as another IOM report revealed that there were over 3,500 the total fatalities on the Mediterranean in 2016. This is almost as many as all of 2015, and at least 200 more than those who died during all of 2014.
Since 2013, the IOM Missing Migrants Project estimated that at least 10,000 migrants and refugees have perished in the Mediterranean. Well over half of those casualties occurred on the so-called Libyan Central Mediterranean route linking North Africa to Italy.
Before departing Libya, the Burkina migrants stayed overnight at a shelter organized by the Burkinabe embassy in Tripoli, where IOM Libya staff provided food and hygiene kits. A mobile patrol from the Tripoli Security Committee escorted the buses to Mitiga airport, the report said.
The IOM reported that most migrants told its staff that they had arrived in Libya using a much used route (Burkina Faso – Niger – Qatroun – Sabha – Tripoli). They paid smugglers between USD 800–USD 2,000 per person and the journey took between two weeks and a month, during which time they were forced to scrounge for food and water.
During their stay in Libya, migrants reported struggling just to survive, but mainly due to widespread insecurity and crime as well as lack of employment opportunities. Being constantly at risk of being robbed or held for ransom was the hardest part, many told IOM staff.
“I arrived in Libya one year ago, after paying smugglers USD 500 in Niger to take me to Sabha (Libya),” explained Aniss, 21. “I would go daily, sunrise to sunset, to the station seeking work, getting hard labour for low wages to pay for my food and shelter. I would pay 40–50 Libyan Dinars if stopped at a check point. Once my friend Usama didn’t have cash, so they searched him and took his phone.”
Essam, 29, told IOM staff: “My journey to Libya was very difficult. I left Burkina Faso one and a half years ago, paying smugglers USD 800, but I was left behind at a detention centre in Sabha for one month. I worked for 8 months at an oil facility before it shut down for security reasons. Then I paid smugglers USD 400 to go to Tripoli, but I couldn’t find any work there. Day-to-day life was getting more complicated and unsafe. Finally, I contacted my embassy and I am now glad to be going back to my family.”
“I came with my husband three years ago, paying smugglers USD 1200,” explained Asma, a young mother of twins. “I worked as a house maid for a monthly salary of USD 200. But then the family stopped paying me, telling me the dollar value was too high. Then I worked for eight months without being paid.”
Ahmed, a 32-year-old farmer said: “I worked at a car wash for two years, then one day I was robbed late at night by armed men. They stole USD 500 and my phone. I have three girls back home six, nine and 11 years old. I thought I was going to die that night.”
On arrival in Burkina Faso, the migrants were met by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and Burkinabe Abroad, the National Solidarity and Family Society and IOM. They were given onward money to pay for their transportation to their final destinations. In addition, 20 of the most vulnerable migrants will receive reintegration assistance.
The charter was funded by the European Union’s Instrument Contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP) as part of an IOM project: Repatriation Assistance for Vulnerable Migrants Stranded inside Libya and Promoting Stability in Libya’s Southern Regions.
Meanwhile, the IOM reported that 300,450 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea in 2016 up to 21 September, arriving mostly in Greece and Italy. Some 166,050 people have arrived in Greece and 130,567 in Italy during 2016.
Totals in 2015 through the entire month of September last year were 518,181 – nearly 50 percent higher than 2016’s totals, with slightly over a week remaining in September, the report said.
Deaths, however, are considerably higher than last year’s total of 2,887 on this date. According to IOM’s Missing Migrants Project, this year they stand at 3,501, with reports arriving yesterday (22nd September) of the latest tragedy off Egypt.
IOM’s Rome office reported that the shipwreck occurred Wednesday off the Egyptian coast, where a boat carrying between 400 and 450 migrants capsized. The total number of migrants on board may not be clear until more testimony can be gathered from survivors. But IOM’s sources in the region say it is likely to have been lower than the 600 initially reported.
Estimates of the 400 or more men, women and children on the voyage is derived from Egyptian coastguard sources, who say they rescued 163 migrants and recovered 51 bodies (among them at least 10 women and one baby). This would leave as many as 240 unaccounted for or “presumed missing.” Normally in such situations, “missing” migrants are presumed drowned, their remains never recovered.
This brings IOM’s estimated death toll from this latest shipwreck to between 285 and 300 persons. That figure, together with the 3,213 IOM’s Missing Migrants Project reported as Mediterranean fatalities earlier this week would bring to over 3,500 the total fatalities on the Mediterranean in 2016. This is almost as many as all of 2015, and at least 200 more than died during all of 2014.
Since 2013, the IOM Missing Migrants Project estimates that at least 10,000 migrants and refugees have perished in the Mediterranean. Well over half of those casualties occurred on the so-called Central Mediterranean route linking North Africa to Italy.
Through mid-September this year some 2,765 deaths had been reported on this route. With this week’s additional fatalities, the total will be over 3,000 or nearly 90 percent of all Mediterranean fatalities in 2016.
IOM understands that the vessel left Egypt from Damietta and stopped 12 miles off the coast of Burg Rashid, when it started to take on other migrants. The boat was almost certainly headed to Italy.
IOM’s Flavio di Giacomo in Rome said: “The Egyptian route is used mainly by migrants coming from Eastern African countries – Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan – and some coming from the Middle East. We do not know how many Syrians were on board, but generally speaking the number of Syrian arrivals has sharply decreased. It was 577 as of August 31st compared to 6,710 at the end of August 2015.”
“Entire families, children, and young people entrusted their lives to human smugglers, and risked everything aboard an unseaworthy boat that capsized and sank,” said ÏOM Egypt Head of Office Amr Taha. “IOM remains at the disposal of the Government of Egypt to provide any support needed and stands ready to also support the rescued migrants and their families,” he added.
IOM Egypt further reported Egyptian authorities had rescued among the survivors 111 Egyptians, 26 Sudanese, 13 Eritreans, two Somalis, one Syrian and one Ethiopian national. IOM Egypt said at least 42 of the bodies recovered were Egyptians.
“We urge the parliament to pass the new anti-human smuggling law, which should be a strong deterrent for smugglers. The law safeguards the rights and addresses the needs of smuggled migrants, as well as stipulating imprisonment and substantial fines for smugglers and their accomplices. Punishment amounts to life imprisonment and fines above USD 25,000 when smuggling results in the death or disability of migrant women or children, or when links to organized crime and terrorism are substantiated,” Taha added.
Also Thursday IOM Athens reports that 2,216 migrants and refugees landed on Greek islands through the first 14 days of September – a daily average of 105 men, women and children. That number is consistent with the daily average number of arrivals during August, when 3,429 migrants and refugees entered Greece by sea.