London/Rome - The human rights organization Amnesty International has blamed the countries of the European Union for the high number of migrant deaths in the Mediterranean so far this summer.
Blaming the European Union
The support for the Libyan Coastguard in preventing departures from the North African coast for Europe and turning boats back to Libya is "contributing to rendering the central Mediterranean route more dangerous for refugees and migrants, and rescue at sea unreliable," the Amnesty report said.
"Some deaths at sea along this perilous route are unavoidable, as long as smugglers force people to travel in unseaworthy and overcrowded boats, with no food, water, safety equipment, or sufficient fuel on board," the report, released in London on Wednesday, said.
"The recent surge in deaths at sea, however, cannot be dismissed as an inescapable misfortune," the rights charity said, singling out the new populist government in Rome for special criticism.
Sharp criticism of the Italian government
Italy has denied entry to its ports to several boats with rescued migrants on board and has impounded resuce boats belonging to non-governmental organizations. Malta has acted similarly.
This has "rendered the search and rescue system unreliable, unpredictable, and punitive," Amnesty said.
While fewer people were managing to reach Europe via the so-called central route to Italy, more were drowning at sea: The UN's International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported a record monthly total of 564 deaths in June and a further 157 in July.
Across the whole Mediterranean, 1,514 migrants have died making the treacherous sea crossing this year.