More than 7,000 migrants died in 2016

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More than 7,000 people died on migratory routes this year, the highest annual number ever recorded by the International Organization for Migration. The casualties increased this year despite a reduction in the number of migrants, the organization said.

The central Mediterranean Sea route, which runs from Libya to Italy, proved to be the most deadly, accounting for more than 5,000 of the total casualties. More deaths are expected before the end of the year, IOM said.

Nearly 1.5 million migrants have moved to Europe in the last two years, the majority from Africa and the Middle East. The European Union responded by striking a refugee deal with Turkey and is still negotiating similar agreements with some African countries. But migration analysts have raised concerns that the EU’s solution only offers a “band-aid” approach that does not address the real problem.

According to the United Nations refugee agency, Nigeria has the highest number of migrants heading to Italy, with 21 percent of more than 179,000 arrivals. Eritrea, which in came in second, had 12 percent of the arrivals.

Nigeria’s economy has faced a tumultuous year. The country plunged into recession and is facing its highest inflation in years. Tunde Omoyeni, the national project officer with the IOM in Abuja, added that Nigeria’s large population partly contributes to its position on the list. Despite the northeast crisis with extremist group Boko Haram, the majority of Nigeria’s migrants come from southern states like Lagos and Edo, Omoyeni said. For most Nigerian migrants, the journey offers hope of a better life.

“The economic prospects in Europe, however bleak, are more encouraging than the economic prospects at home,” said Mark Schroeder, vice president of Africa Operations at Stratfor, a U.S. global intelligence company. “You have so many unemployed and underemployed people trying to take a gamble.”

Flavio Di Giacomo, IOM’s spokesman in Rome, said in a statement that Libya’s ongoing crisis added to crossings this year. Di Giacomo said he spoke to several migrants who wanted Libya as their final destination but decided to leave for Europe after facing abuse and violence.

“The trend confirms the fact that conditions in Libya are becoming increasingly dangerous for migrants, who are often trying to flee the country in order to save their lives,” he said.

Earlier this year, the EU reached a deal to provide Turkey with more than $3 billion to host more than 2 million refugees in the country. In return, Turkey agreed to better secure its borders and crackdown on illegal migration, especially through the Aegean eastern Mediterranean route that leads to Greece. The deal already has reduced the number of migrants following the route, but the central Mediterranean began to witness an increase on its side.

“People are not changing their decisions to migrate but are changing their route,” said Jessica Hagen-Zanker, a research fellow at the UK-based Overseas Development Institute.  “So as easier options start to close up, people take more dangerous routes and rely more on smugglers.”

The EU made similar proposals to Nigeria, Mali, and other African countries with higher migrant numbers. The countries would tighten their border controls and collect back asylum seekers whose applications have been denied, while the EU would provide them with financial assistance. Mali this month became the first African country to sign the deal, which is worth more than $150 million.

The problem with that approach, Schroeder said, is the financial assistance will not address challenges like unemployment and underemployment that trigger migration in the first place. Hagen-Zanker added that the aid approach only has an inverse effect on migration. The assumption is aid will improve development, she explained, but an increase in development also leads to an increase in migration. Development comes with better incomes and increased inequality, which make migration seem more attractive, she said.

“Aid is good in itself, but is a poor choice to reduce migration,” Hagen-Zanker said.

Schroeder said efforts should instead focus on helping countries with high emigration numbers develop economies that are more mutual and inclusive. The change will involve reforms in political, social, and economic spheres, where people feel they have a future in the country, he said.

In the meantime, Hagen-Zanker said the EU could channel its efforts into making the routes safer, since “people are going to come regardless.”

— by Onize Ohikere | WNS

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