Hundreds of African migrants drown journeying to Europe

by Onize Ohikere
Posted 4/19/16, 01:40 am

Hundreds of African migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea while trying to illegally cross to Europe, according to reports from Somalia.  The tragedy comes as Turkey threatens to end a deal with the European Union that could be a start toward resolving the migrant crisis.

“It’s a painful tragedy which reminds us all how important it is for us to discourage our youth from embarking on such high-risk journeys,” Somalia’s president, prime minister, and speaker of Parliament said in a joint statement.

The statement said about 400 migrants, mostly Somalis, died in the shipwreck. The illegal nature of the journey makes it impossible to know the exact number of casualties involved. Somalia’s information minister said about 200 people drowned, while a United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) official told Swiss broadcaster SRF otherwise.

“We know that there are 40 survivors and that as many as 460 people may have been on the boat who sailed from Egypt,” UNHCR’S Beat Schuler said.

On the Facebook page “I am Somali” created for the victims, one post said most of the dead were students from Sudanese and Egyptian universities. Coast guard authorities have not confirmed the drowning. The Greek coast guard said it only had reports of 41 migrants rescued by a Filipino-flagged merchant ship Saturday.  The migrants were from Somalia, Sudan, Egypt, and Eritrea.

The latest incident comes one year after more than 700 migrants drowned off the Libyan coast after an overcrowded fishing boat sunk.

Since the start of last year, more than 1.2 million African, Arab, and Asian migrants have made their way into the European Union. In an attempt to curb the influx of refugees, the EU and Turkey struck a deal in which Turkey will accept repatriated refugees from Greece who have no valid EU entry. In exchange, the EU will take the same number of vetted Syrian refugees from Turkey. The EU also provided Turkey with up to 6 billion euros to finance the agreement.

The agreement has already started to reduce the flow of migrants into Europe. EU border agency Frontex said Monday that migrants entering the EU from Turkey reduced significantly in March. After the deal kicked in March 20, about 3,500 people arrived in Greece through March 31, compared to 22,900 between March 1 and 20.

But Turkey has threatened to abandon the agreement unless the EU loosens travel restrictions for Turks by June. EU officials responded today, saying Turkey must fulfill all the requirements for visa-free travel, and it currently meets only 19 of the 72 requirements.

“Visa liberalization is a matter of criteria,” said European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, according to Reuters. “The criteria will not be watered down in the case of Turkey.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD's Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria. Follow her on Twitter @onize_ohiks.

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