UN: Over 80 percent of refugees crossing Mediterranean now arriving in Italy
Would be immigrants wait to disembark in the port of Catania, on the island of Sicily on March 21, 2017 from the ship "Aquarius" following a rescue operation in the Mediterranean sea, where some 946 would be immigrants have been rescued. (AFP/Giovanni Isolino)
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Mediterranean arrivals in Europe this year so far top 20,000, as the death toll from refugee sea journeys passed 500, the UN migration body said Thursday.
A spokesman for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said, "20,484 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea in 2017 through March 19, with over 80 percent arriving in Italy and the rest in Spain and Greece. This compares with 160,331 through the first 79 days of 2016."
IOM's Joel Millman said in a press conference in Geneva that African refugees are traveling via Italy in the wake of a March 2016 readmission deal between the European Union and Turkey.
"IOM reports 525 Mediterranean deaths, short of the 553 reported during the same period in 2016. This year at least 481 migrants or refugees have drowned or gone missing on the Central Mediterranean route linking North Africa to Italy. Last year at this time, 159 migrants had been lost on this route," IOM said.
Two refugees died in the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece this year so far, and 3,236 arrived in Europe by reaching Greece from Turkey, Millman said.
Following the EU-Turkey deal, African refugees largely shifted to the Italy route, the deadliest in the Mediterranean.
The EU-Turkey deal aims to discourage irregular migration through the Aegean by taking stricter measures against human smugglers and improving the conditions of Syrian refugees in Turkey. However, refugees choose to travel longer and more deadly sea journey from Africa to Italy.
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