The Mediterranean Sea was particularly deadly last year. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 3,000 migrants died at sea in 2021 while attempting to cross to Europe. This is twice as many as the previous year, when 1,544 deaths were recorded.
In detail, “1,924 people were reported dead or missing on the Central and Western Mediterranean routes, while another 1,153 perished or were reported missing on the sea route from North West Africa to the Canary Islands. said UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo. “Alarmingly, since the beginning of the year, 478 additional people have died or gone missing at sea,” said Shabia Mantoo.
+83% arrivals in Italy
According to the body, which calls for the development of “alternative” solutions, the Covid-19 pandemic and the associated border closures have had a significant impact on migratory flows. They have prompted many people to turn to smugglers to try to reach the European continent. Some 53,323 people thus arrived by sea in Italy last year, 83% more than in 2020. In the Canary Islands, this figure remained almost stable, at 23,042.
The UNHCR also noted a 61% increase in sea departures from Tunisia last year compared to 2020, and 150% from Libya. Departures from Algeria, on the other hand, only increased very slightly (+3%). Most of the crossings at sea are done on board inflatable boats that are crowded and in poor condition, the organization recalls. Many of these boats deflate or capsize, resulting in the death of the occupants.
“The sea journey from West African coastal states, such as Senegal and Mauritania, and the Canary Islands is long and perilous and can take up to 10 days,” the spokesperson said. UNHCR. “Many boats have strayed from their course or disappeared without a trace in these waters,” she continued.
Towards an increase in attempts
The central Mediterranean is the deadliest migration route in the world, with more than 17,000 deaths and disappearances recorded since 2014 by the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Missing Migrants Project. UNHCR says land routes can also be very dangerous for migrants. An even larger number may have died there, either held captive by traffickers or smugglers, or while attempting to cross the Sahara desert.
And death is not the only danger that threatens refugees and migrants, noted Shabia Mantoo. They are also victims of numerous human rights violations: extrajudicial executions, illegal and arbitrary detentions, sexual violence, forced labor, slavery, forced marriage…
During its press briefing, the UNHCR launched an appeal for funds of 163.5 million dollars to be able to help and protect the thousands of people who try to reach Europe through the dangerous sea routes. Between political instability, conflicts, deterioration of socio-economic conditions and climate change, the body stresses that the conditions are met to observe in the coming years an increase in travel to Europe from Africa.