A new report by UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, warns that while attempts by migrants to cross the Mediterranean have decreased, they have also become more deadly.
Today’s report, entitled Desperate Journeys, reveals that while the total number of people arriving in Europe has fallen over the last year, the rate of deaths has risen sharply. This year alone, more than 1,600 people have gone missing or died during attempts by migrants to cross the Mediterranean and reach Europe.
This represents one person who died or went missing for every 18 people who crossed the Central Mediterranean to Europe between January and July 2018, a significant increase over the one in 42 people who died or went missing making the crossing during the same period in 2017.
Why is making the crossing becoming more deadly for migrants?
It is unclear why the crossing has become so much more deadly, but UNHCR has partnered with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to call for a standardised regional approach to the rescue of migrants in distress at sea.
In many cases, deaths are due to the sinking of the poor quality vessels (in many cases including inflatables) that many migrants are using to make the crossing, and increased efforts to carry out rescues at sea could address this. Further, UNHCR and the IOM have called on European countries to increase the legal pathways through which migrants can claim asylum and improve family reunification, which could reduce incentives for migrants to make the dangerous crossing.
How effectively will Europe respond to the challenge?
Pascale Moreau, UNHCR’s Director of the Bureau for Europe, has implored that the EU take action immediately to address the concerns, emphasising that the challenges of irregular migration are no longer a factor, and that efforts should now be focused on the humanitarian situation in the Mediterranean region.
She said: “This report once again confirms the Mediterranean as one of the world’s deadliest sea crossings. With the number of people arriving on European shores falling, this is no longer a test of whether Europe can manage the numbers, but whether Europe can muster the humanity to save lives.”