The English Channel – the waters between France and the UK – is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. The currents on the water are strong, making the seemingly short trip rather dangerous.
Despite this danger, smugglers and illegal migrants have not been deterred from attempting to cross it, so many drown in the process.
On Wednesday, in what is now described as the worst migrant drowning accident on the English Channel, dozens of people were found dead after their dinghy capsized in the channel.
The incident which happened between the French coastal towns of Calais and Dunkirk was first noticed by fishermen who spotted the empty dinghy and bodies floating on the surface of the water.
Confirming the incident, French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said 34 people were believed to have been on the boat, and so far 31 bodies and two survivors have been found. He added that four suspected smugglers had been arrested in connection with the incident.
Since it began collecting data for its Missing Migrants Project in 2014, the International Organization for Migration has noted Wednesday’s accident as the deadliest drowning incident of migrants in the English Channel.
French President Emmanuel Macron, in his reaction to the tragedy, called for an emergency meeting of EU ministers involved in migration issues, saying he would not ‘let the English Channel turn into a graveyard’ .
Also, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “shocked and appalled” by the death of migrants in the Channel.
The tragedy recalls the many reported cases of Nigerian migrants who lost their lives while trying to cross to Europe. These incidents mainly occur from Libya as it is the main point of departure for illegal migrants trying to reach Europe by sea.
IOM and the UN refugee agency noted earlier this year that more than 17,000 migrants have drowned since 2014 in the central Mediterranean. In 2020, nearly a thousand migrants died crossing the Central Mediterranean route.
Worldwide, the Mediterranean Sea has recorded the highest number of deaths and disappearances of people who have migrated. In particular, the central Mediterranean Sea has recorded the highest number of deaths.
Between January and September 2021, it is estimated that more than 1,000 people died trying to cross the Central Mediterranean route.
In July 2021, IOM noted that 29,000 people, including Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalis and other Africans, had migrated to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea this year.
In data published by the European Union, illegal migrants from Nigeria make up 21% of the total 171,299 immigrants who braved the odds of the Mediterranean to arrive in Italy in 2016.
Figures from the Italian Interior Ministry put the record number of arrivals of Nigerians at 36,000, with most saying they were fleeing the Boko Haram insurgency or the Niger Delta crisis.
These Nigerians, desperate for a taste of the good life that seemed to have largely eluded them in their home country, prepared every chance to make the long and extremely dangerous journey across the Mediterranean Sea to cross into Europe to become economic refugees. Many of them, unfortunately, lose their lives in the process.
In 2017, 26 Nigerian women, mostly teenagers, lost their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea.
During an autopsy carried out in Salerno, southern Italy, 25 of the women died of asphyxiation in the water when the inflatable boat they were traveling on sank. The autopsy report further revealed that a woman suffered a liver injury, while two of the dead – Marian Shaka and Osato Osaro – were pregnant.
In the same year, during a book launch, President Muhammadu Buhari’s Special Assistant for Diaspora Affairs, Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, disclosed that around 128 Nigerians died while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.
In 2018, around 50 Nigerian migrants were among hundreds of migrants rescued in the Mediterranean Sea by the Libyan Coast Guard and an international charity, Doctors Without Borders.
The Nigerians were on a boat with 110 migrants and were rescued by Aquarius, a vessel operated by MSF, 21 miles off the west coast of Tripoli.
In January, at least 43 migrants and refugees were killed in a shipwreck off Libya.
In a joint statement from IOM and UNHCR, they said the unfortunate boat left Zawiya town and was believed to have sunk due to bad weather hours later.
In May this year, a shipwreck off Tunis claimed the lives of 17 African migrants while two Nigerian women were rescued as they tried to reach Italy from Libya across the Mediterranean Sea. The 19 migrants had boarded the ship on Sunday from Zawiya in Libya.
The two Nigerians were rescued off the southern town of Zarziz by the Tunisian coast guard, the Tunisian Red Crescent told Reuters.
In July this year, around 57 people drowned after a boat capsized off the coast of Libya near Khums. It was the latest in a recurring tragedy in the Mediterranean where more than 1,100 people had died that year, the IOM said.
IOM spokeswoman Safa Msehli said survivors included migrants from Nigeria, Ghana and The Gambia. She added that among the victims brought ashore by fishermen and coastguards, at least 20 women and two children were among those who drowned.
A month later, nearly 200 migrants were rescued off the Libyan coast by the humanitarian organization SOS Méditerranée. The migrants, who were mostly from Syria, Eritrea, Nigeria, Cameroon and Ghana, were rescued in four different operations. Among those rescued were 28 women – at least two of whom were pregnant – and 33 minors, including two children under the age of five.
In November, in one of the worst tragedies involving migrants trying to reach Europe by boat via the Mediterranean, at least 75 migrants died off the coast of Libya.
The 15 survivors who were rescued by a fishing boat said the incident happened off the Libyan coastal town of Zawara. Msehli said the boat left around 10 p.m. with 92 Sudanese, Pakistani, Gambian, Nigerian and Ghanaian migrants on board. Three of the 15 survivors were transferred to a hospital after returning to shore, Msehli said. InfoMigrants
According to an organization that provides information on migration and to people on the move or planning to migrate, the Migrant Project, many Nigerians have died trying to reach Libya, and many more have died crossing the sea. Mediterranean to Italy. In 2017, one in 36 migrants died trying to cross the Mediterranean and since 2014, 16,850 migrants have died during the crossing. Many of them were Nigerians.
The organization noted that smugglers often lie about the length of the journey and fail to tell migrants that the boats are overcrowded, unsuitable for long sea journeys and at risk of sinking.
In 2017, during a training on “Trafficking in Persons/Migrant Smuggling across Borders”, organized by the Nigerian Immigration Service, the Assistant Comptroller General, Training, Manpower and Development, Maroof Giwa, noted that a large number of Nigerians die every year trying to cross Europe.
Giwa noted that many were profiting from the business, adding that around 4,000 Nigerians had been expelled from Libya in the same period when they were intercepted as they were about to cross the Mediterranean Sea.
To raise awareness of the evils of this endemic method of migration, in 2018 a group, Migration Enlightenment Project Nigeria, sounded the alarm that more than 700 Nigerians died in the Mediterranean Sea while migrating illegally within six months of the ‘year.
The group noted that in 2018, more than 1,500 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, noting that many victims were Nigerians.
Undermining imminent death and often death threats, many Nigerians still brave dangerous conditions to cross the Mediterranean to get a slice of the apparent El Dorado in European countries.
Commenting on the development, travel expert Williams Nwachukwu said that as long as many young Nigerians remain locked in poverty, illegal and dangerous migration will continue.
He said: “Unemployment in the country is at an all-time high and this, coupled with rising levels of poverty, is driving illegal migration. For these able-bodied young Nigerians, undertaking the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean Sea or, in some cases, crossing the Sahara Desert in search of a better life is far better than dying in poverty in Nigeria.
Nwachukwu noted that to bring about a lasting solution to the problem, the government must quickly introduce various social plans to ensure that restless youths do not need to risk their lives in search of better living conditions.
He said: “Information programs must be launched by the government as well as NGOs to correct the widely held but inaccurate beliefs about illegal migration. Young people must be properly informed of the risks to which they expose themselves if they travel illegally. They could be arrested, turned into slaves in some countries or even die in the process.
“In addition, jobs must be created to engage young people. If they have gainful employment, they will not need to sacrifice their lives on dangerous journeys in search of economic El Dorados abroad. Without creating jobs for young people, it is a futile effort to dissuade them from deciding to travel in dangerous conditions.
However, the British Broadcasting Corporation reported on Thursday that plans were underway to carry out autopsies and identify victims of the Channel tragedy.
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