2,000 migrants drown in Mediterranean this year

A child is carried by a member of Spain's Maritime Rescue Service as they arrive at the port of San Roque, southern Spain, after being rescued by Spain's Maritime Rescue Service in the Strait of Gibraltar last month. (AP)
Updated 06 November 2018
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2,000 migrants drown in Mediterranean this year

GENEVA: More than 2,000 migrants have died since January trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe, the UN said Tuesday, adding that more than half of them were headed for Italy.
“The number of lives lost on the Mediterranean this year has now exceeded 2000” after 17 people were found dead off the Spanish coast this week, said Charlie Yaxley, spokesperson for the UNHCR refugee agency.
He said some 105,000 migrants and refugees seeking asylum have reached Europe so far this year, representing a drop to pre-2014 levels.
But the drownings this year mean that the rate of deaths has escalated sharply.
The UNHCR “has called repeatedly for urgent action to address this situation,” he said.
“The Mediterranean has for several years been the world’s deadliest sea route for refugees and migrants. That it continues to be so should be unacceptable to all.”
A spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration, Joel Millman, said it was the fifth consecutive year that arrivals have topped 100,000.
But he noted that in previous years that threshold was crossed much earlier in the year.
Last year that figure was reached in July, as it was in 2014. In 2015, arrivals topped 100,000 by June and in 2016 it was in February.
Spain was the top destination for migrants and refugees this year, with more than 49,000 arrivals by sea, ahead of Greece with more 27,700 and Italy with over 22,160.
But of the more than 2,000 who died, some 1,260 were en route to Italy, according to the IOM.
Many of the migrants make the perilous crossing on overcrowded and unseaworthy vessels.
Yaxley also said the UNHCR remains “very concerned about the legal and logistical restrictions that have been placed on a number of NGOs wishing to conduct search and rescue operations” in the Mediterranean.
These included operations by the civilian rescue ship the Aquarius, which was chartered by the charities Doctors without Borders (MSF) and SOS Mediterranee.


Brazil seeks to privatize key stretches of Amazon highways

Updated 39 min 57 sec ago
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Brazil seeks to privatize key stretches of Amazon highways

  • President Jair Bolsonaro’s government is seeking to overhaul Brazil’s poor transportation infrastructure
  • The Trans-Amazonian highway was inaugurated in the 1970s but only a fraction of its nearly 3,000 kilometers were paved
BRASILIA: Brazil will add the Trans-Amazonian Highway to the list of projects for privatization, its infrastructure minister said on Tuesday, seeking new investment to pave part of a dictatorship-era roadway already blamed for extensive deforestation.
The road concession will be added to a priority list for privatization at a meeting next month, Infrastructure Minister Tarcisio Freitas told Reuters in an interview.
The government will package a short section of highway with a concession to run a major section of BR-163, a key northern route for shipping Brazilian grains, a ministry spokesman said later on Tuesday. The 40-km (25-mile) section of the Trans-Amazonian up for privatization will connect BR-163 with the river port of Miritituba in northern state of Para, the spokesman said.
President Jair Bolsonaro’s government is seeking to overhaul Brazil’s poor transportation infrastructure, which raises costs and causes delays for the commodity-exporting powerhouse, by seeking private investors to operate dozens of road, rail and airport projects.
On Monday, government Secretary Adalberto Vasconcelos, who has been tasked with creating public-private infrastructure partnerships, said the country would privatize more airports and secure new investment for railways.
For roadways, five concessions are slated for auction this year with a long pipeline of projects to follow, according to Freitas. BR-262/381 in the state of Minas Gerais, sometimes called the “Road of Death” because its poor condition has contributed to lethal accidents, will also be put on the privatization list next month, he said.
The Trans-Amazonian highway, officially known as BR-230, was inaugurated in the 1970s under Brazil’s military dictatorship, but only a fraction of its nearly 3,000 kilometers (1,864-miles) were paved and much of the existing roadway has fallen into disrepair. It stretches from the coastal state of Paraiba deep into Amazonas state. Original plans for it to reach the border with Peru were never completed.
Nevertheless, research by Brazil’s space agency and academics has linked the road to a rise in deforestation, and road improvements allowing easier access deep into the Amazon have consistently led to increased deforestation nearby.
He said that major construction firms that were implicated in corruption schemes remain unable to participate in public auctions for infrastructure projects, but could act as subcontractors for winners of concession auctions.
Engineering conglomerates Odebrecht SA and Andrade Gutierrez SA, both implicated in corruption schemes to fix contracts, signed leniency deals with the government admitting guilt and agreeing to cooperate, which allows them to contest government contracts. Companies linked to corruption but without such leniency deals may be subject to legal challenges.
“They are companies that have know-how, companies with engineering (ability), companies that can provide good services,” Freitas said.