Nicole Colson – The Mediterranean Has Become a Cemetery

With little mention in the media, a grim milestone was passed off the southern shores of Europe last month.

With the death toll of refugees in the Mediterranean Sea already surpassing all of last year, 2016 has become the deadliest year on record for those fleeing the violence, poverty and horror of their home countries in the hope of finding a better life in Europe.

As of October 31, some 3,940 refugees have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean this year, according to the International Organization for Migration. By comparison, the IOM counted 3,771 refugee fatalities in the Mediterranean in all of 2015.

As one European government after another has tightened its borders and increased legal and physical repression — and after a European Union deal with the authoritarian government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan designed to stem the flow of refugees — far fewer people have been able to make the crossing this year. So far, some 332,000 refugees have reached Europe via the Mediterranean in 2016, compared to more than 1 million over all of last year.

But those who are crossing are facing increasingly perilous conditions. According to the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), one person out of every 88 who attempts to cross the Mediterranean dies at sea. In 2015, that number was one out of every 269 people.

To put the statistics in perspective, CNN calculated that refugees crossing the Mediterranean are 90 times more likely to die than an American will die of gunshot wounds.

“This is the worst we have ever seen,” UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler said at a press conference in late October.

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