The trip across the Mediterranean is deadly — about 58 percent of the refugees who have died this year during their cross-border migration have drowned in the Mediterranean, according to the International Organization for Migration.

The route from sub-Saharan Africa to Libya is also dangerous, especially for women. Women might endure sexual assault and rape and contract HIV as a result. One humanitarian worker told The Washington Post about women she had met who were penetrated with objects such as guns. Perpetrators of sexual violence include security forces, smugglers and men aboard the rescue boats.

In February, UNICEF reported that levels of sexual violence and abuse along the Central Mediterranean migration route made it one of “the world’s deadliest and most dangerous migrant routes for children and women.”

The tragedy

Twenty-three of the women were discovered near a rubber dinghy that officials believe sank on Friday, according to AFP. The women’s bodies were found in the Mediterranean by a Spanish vessel.

A top Salerno official, Salvatore Malfi, said the women may have been thrown off their rubber dinghy into the waters of the Mediterranean, according to NPR’s Sylvia Poggioli. “The cause of death appears to be by drowning.”

The Spanish ship managed Sunday to rescue 90 women and 52 minors, including a newborn, officials told CNN. The rescue was one of four that altogether saved about 400 people over the course of the weekend.

The numbers

So far this year through Nov. 1:

  • 151,000 migrants survived the journey across the Mediterranean to Europe, according to the International Organization for Migration.
  • Almost 75 percent of those migrants — about 111,500 people — landed in Italy, with the rest reaching the shores of Greece, Cyprus and Spain.
  • More than 2,800 migrants have died attempting the journey.

Since 2014:

But the Italian government, facing an unending flow of people from Africa and an increase in anti-migrant sentiments from its people, wants to limit the thousands of refugees arriving on its shores each month. The government has therefore agreed to pay Libyan militias willing to clamp down on human smuggling as part of an unusual deal.

An investigation

Malfi, the Salerno official, told AFP that investigators would look to see if the women had been assaulted.

“They were on a dinghy that was also carrying men,” he told Italian reporters who asked whether the women were on a sex-trafficking boat.

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