The deadliest year for refugees?

The Independent (UK) has a piece this day on the continued slow unfolding horror that is the meditteranian refugee crisis. Refugee crisis: 2016 on course to be deadliest year on record as thousands of asylum seekers drown in Mediterranean | Europe | News | The Independent


The tragic benchmark was not reached until October 2015, which was the deadliest year on record and made the channel between Libya and Italy the most dangerous crossing in the world.

It is a horror. A blot on the conscience of the world, and something the Irish government has made but a token effort to deal with. Sure, refugees from war and famine, what mean they to us….

Where I take issue is with 3000 refugee deaths being the deadliest year on record. On record where? Since when? 

Some random tragic examples dredged from memory and refreshed by  Google and coffee on a Sunday morning

  • In 1945 in ONCE INCIDENT alone, the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, between 5000 and 7000 refugees, mostly women and children, drowned in the Baltic, consequent to the Russian navy torpedoing the vessel.
  • a few days later the General von Steuben was deliberately sunk, with about 3000 deaths, again mostly refugees.
  • in 1878 about 750,000 muslim bulgarians fled Bulgaria, after the Russo-Turkic war. About 175,000 of them died.
  • the populations exchanges after the Treaty of Sevres/ Lausanne in 1921 were of the order of 2m people and for sure the excess deaths were in excess of 3000 per annum.

Outside Europe, two random examples.

  • In 1947 the partition of India resulted in 10-15m refugee movements with between 500,000 and 1,000,000 deaths
  • Nobody has a clue how many people died in migration movements consequent to the course of the An Lushan Rebellion in the mid 8th century in china, which may or may not have been, proportionally, the worst war in history, death toll wise.


Bottom line – one death is too many. But 3000 deaths, alas, doesn’t even begin to scratch at the surface of some relatively recent european refugee annual death tolls. Europeans are very very good at killing other humans. Really, excellent. We should be grateful for, among other things, the EU, in harnessing our energies elsewhere.  Journalists might consider the longer sweep of history in their reportage – doing so would be educational as well as informative.



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