More than 2,500 dead, missing as 186,000 cross Mediterranean in 2023

UN refugee agency says ‘no end in sight’ to the lives lost in Mediterranean and on land routes to sea departure points.

Some eighteen migrants navigate on a wooden boat to the Italian island of Lampedusa, in the Mediterranean Sea, August 28, 2021. REUTERS/Juan Medina
Eighteen people on a small wooden boat near the Italian island of Lampedusa, in the Mediterranean Sea, in 2021 [File: Juan Medina/Reuters]

More than 2,500 people have died or gone missing while trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe so far this year, the UN refugee agency said, while approximately 186,000 people have arrived in European countries during the same period.

Ruven Menikdiwela, director of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in New York, told the UN Security Council on Thursday that of the 186,000 who had crossed the Mediterranean, 83 percent – some 130,000 people – landed in Italy. Other countries where people who had crossed the Mediterranean had landed included Greece, Spain, Cyprus and Malta.

The number of those who died or went missing during the dangerous sea crossing has surged this year compared with last year, the Security Council was told.

“By September 24, over 2,500 people were accounted as dead or missing in 2023 alone,” Menikdiwela said. That number marked a large increase over the 1,680 who died or went missing in the same period in 2022.

Menikdiwela said the UN refugee agency saw “no end in sight” to the lives lost at sea and on land routes to Europe, which are similarly dangerous.

The UNHCR official told the council how the land journey from sub-Saharan African countries to sea crossing departure points on the Tunisian and Libyan coasts “remains one of the world’s most dangerous”.

“Lives are also lost on land, away from public attention,” Menikdiwela said.

The migrants and refugees “risk death and gross human rights violations at every step”, she said.

More than 102,000 people attempted to cross the Mediterranean from Tunisia, a 260 percent increase from last year, and more than 45,000 had tried to cross from Libya, Menikdiwela said.

The UNHCR figures were similar to those presented by Par Liljert, director of the International Office for Migration (IOM).

“Recent IOM data demonstrates that from January to September 2023, more than 187,000 individuals crossed the Mediterranean in pursuit of a better future and the promise of safety,” Liljert told the Security Council.

“Tragically, during this same period, IOM recorded 2,778 deaths, with 2,093 of them occurring along the treacherous central Mediterranean route,” he said, referring to the most dangerous sea crossing.

“Yet, despite its clear dangers, in 2023, there has been an increase in arrivals to Greece along this route of over 300 percent, while the number of arrivals in Spain has remained steady, primarily through the Atlantic route to the Canary Islands as compared to the numbers recorded at the same time last year,” he said.

IOM also witnessed a significant increase in arrivals to Italy, with 130,000 so far this year compared with some 70,000 in 2022.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies