Deadly Med: Migrant Deaths on Sea Routes to Europe Have Doubled in 2021

Written by | Thursday, July 15th, 2021

The number of migrants and refugees who died on dangerous sea routes to Europe more than doubled so far during the first half of 2021, the United Nations’ migration agency said in a new report. At least 1,146 people perished this year, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The number of people travelling on sea routes to Europe also increased, but only by 56%, the IOM’s report said. The Central Mediterranean route between Libya and Italy was the deadliest, claiming 741 lives. Next was the stretch of the Atlantic Ocean between West Africa and Spain’s Canary Islands, where at least 250 people died, the agency said. At least 149 people also died on the Western Mediterranean route to Spain, as well as at least six on the Eastern Mediterranean route to Greece.
The IOM says the actual number of deaths on sea routes to Europe may be far higher as many shipwrecks go unreported and others are hard to verify. Human rights organisations have warned that the absence of government search and rescue vessels, particularly in the Central Mediterranean, would make migrant crossings more dangerous. European governments increasingly rely on and support North African countries with fewer resources to handle search and rescue operations. Tunisia increased such operations by 90% in the first six months of 2021, while Libyan authorities intercepted and returned more than 15,000 men, women and children to the war-torn country, three times more people than in the same period last year, the IOM report said.
Meanwhile, Italian authorities increasingly targeted charity rescue ships that have worked over the years to fill the void left by European governments, routinely detaining the vessels operated by nongovernmental organisations for months, sometimes years. Italy detained nine NGO-operated ships so far this year, according to Matteo Villa, a research fellow for the independent think thank ISPI, who tracks data and statistics on migration. While many factors contributed to this year’s higher death toll, including an increase in the number of flimsy boats attempting sea crossings, “the absence of proactive, European, state-led search and rescue operations in international waters combined with restrictions on NGOs” was among the main factors, IOM spokesperson Safa Msehli said. “These people cannot be abandoned in such a dangerous journey,” Msehli told the media.

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