Mediterranean Sea journeys for migrants have grown more deadly: UNHCR

Migrants, who risk their lives to cross the Mediterranean to Europe on flimsy boats often piloted by people-smugglers, are at greater risk of dying now than in years, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Friday.

In this photo taken on Aug. 2, 2021, a boat overcrowded with migrants is waiting to be rescued by Sea-Watch 3 in the Mediterranean sea. /AP

The latest data visualization figures from UNHCR show that there were 3,231 dead or missing at sea last year, a sharp rise from 2020.

Last year’s shipwreck death toll is on a par with 2014, even though almost twice as many people crossed the sea to Europe eight years ago, when the exodus of those fleeing war in Syria, war was at its height.

The situation is a “widespread, longstanding and largely overlooked tragedy”, said UNHCR.

The UN agency noted that although some of those crossing the Mediterranean want a better life and better jobs, many are fleeing conflict, violence, or persecution.

The most common countries of origin for people moving along Mediterranean routes include those affected by years of conflict and displacement, particularly in the East and Horn of Africa regions.

Speaking to the press in Geneva, UNHCR Spokesperson Shabia Mantoo, said that in addition to the rising death toll at sea, the agency is concerned that “deaths and abuses are also widespread along land routes, most commonly in and through the countries of origin and transit, including Eritrea, Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Libya – where the overwhelming majority of risks and incidents are reported.”

(With input from UNHCR)