At least 1,000 migrants are believed to have drowned after a string of deadly shipwrecks in the Mediterranean Sea over the last week, according to new figures, making it one of the worst weeks in the ongoing refugee crisis.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Tuesday that it now believes at least 993 people died in three separate shipwrecks, while a number of others died in smaller incidents. Those figures are significantly higher than initially reported.
The worst incident happened on Thursday when a wooden boat being towed by a larger smuggling boat began to take on water as it tried to reach Europe. The captain of the towing boat then cut the tow line, causing the second vessel to capsize with more than 550 migrants on board. Only 87 of those survived.
“There were many women and boys in the hold,” one of the survivors, a young Eritrean man called Stefanos, told IOM. “We were taking on water, but we had a pump that helped us to push the water out. When the pump ran out of fuel, we asked for more fuel to the captain of the first boat, who said no. At this point there was nothing left to do: the water was everywhere and we slowly started to sink.”
At least 280 people are believed to have died in a second incident on Thursday, while 250 others died in a third shipwreck last Wednesday, pushing the combined death toll from all three incidents to nearly 1,000. Others died in smaller incidents as they tried to make the dangerous crossing.
The updated figures mean that at least 2,443 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea so far this year, which is up from 1,828 in the same period last year. The vast majority – more than 2,000 – died in waters off Libya and Tunisia, while nearly 400 died in the sea between Turkey and Greece.
The number of arrivals has also significantly increased, with at least 204,000 migrants arriving by boat in the first 5 months of 2016, compared to about 92,000 in the same period last year. Most arrive in Europe through Italy and Greece, while smaller numbers reach countries such as Spain.
“The increase in numbers of arrivals is attributable, in part, to better weather, and in part to the use of bigger wooden boats that can carry more people than the rubber boats usually used,” said Federico Soda of IOM. “Smugglers put over 700 migrants in the wooden boats, whereas the rubber ones generally carry only 100 to 120 people.”
Soda added: “During the last few days we have had major accidents involving unsafe wooden boats. This also explains the increase in the number of migrants dead or missing: one accident can result in hundreds of fatalities.”
The majority of those arriving in Europe so far this year are coming from countries that are affected by armed conflict. Of the 204,000 arrivals so far in 2016, more than 77,000 are Syrian nationals, nearly 40,000 are Afghan nationals, and more than 25,000 are Iraqi nationals.
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