According to the International Organization for Migration, 1,089 migrants are believed to have died while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea since Jan. 1.
The grim milestone received little notice around the world. The number of deaths appears to be down from the previous two years; in 2016, the final number believed to have died in the Mediterranean surpassed 5,000, which the U.N. refugee agency said was the “worst annual death toll ever seen.”
While the statistics list countries, the migrants aren't trying to make it all the way to the mainland. Many European nations have islands close to the North Africa coast, where the migrants can seek asylum on arrival. Italy's southernmost island, Lampedusa, for example, which is only 185 miles from Tripoli, Libya, and even closer from the Tunisian coast. But with hundreds packed into small, low-hulled fishing craft and subject to questionable crew, travels of even such short distances have proved perilous.
The IOM noted that the Mediterranean journey still appeared to be the most deadly being taken by migrants. The organization said that 36,851 migrants or refugees had entered Italy by sea so far this year, a nearly 45 percent increase over last year. The number making the journey across the eastern Mediterranean to Greece and Crete was significantly lower than last year, however.
Most of the migrants who make the Mediterranean crossing are from sub-Saharan Africa and fleeing poverty or persecution at home. A smaller number this year are arriving from the Middle East, fleeing conflicts and chaos in a number of countries. Aid groups say there has been a surge in the numbers of migrants in recent weeks as smugglers rush to beat the looming start of Libyan coast guard patrols designed to block the route to Europe.
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