On 3 September 2018, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) released a new report showing that migrants making the journey across the Mediterranean are encountering a more perilous crossing than ever before. Thus far in 2018, more than 1,600 individuals forced to flee their homes have lost their lives in transit. Although the number of migrants and refugees arriving in Europe has fallen, there has been a significant and asymmetric increase in the number of deaths.
“This report once again confirms the Mediterranean as one of the world’s deadliest sea crossings,” said the UNHCR’s Director of the Bureau for Europe, Pascale Moreau. “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.”
In the central Mediterranean, one individual died or went missing for every 18 who made the crossing between January and July 2018. During the same months in 2017, one individual died for every 42. The report indicates a number of factors contributing to such an increase, one of which is the reduced search and rescue capacity off the coast of Libya.
Vincent Cochetel, Special Envoy of the UNHCR for the central Mediterranean area, explained that increased surveillance conducted by coastguards in Libya results in more risks being taken by traffickers, which in turn results in more deaths. A further factor, according to Matteo Villa at the Italian Institute for International Political Studies, is the increased incidence of shipwrecks since Matteo Salvini, Italy’s Minister of the Interior, refused to allow rescue vessels to dock in Italy in June.
In recent months, UNHCR and the UN Migration Agency have called for states to work together more effectively to manage the rescue and disembarkation of refugees and migrants in distress in the Mediterranean. They are also calling on states to increase access to safe and legal routes for refugees, including by increasing resettlement locations and removing obstacles to reunification with family. Noting the measures that some have taken to restrict entry into their territory, the report urges states to ensure those seeking international protection readily-available access to asylum procedures as well as appealing to states to strengthen mechanisms to safeguard children travelling alone and seeking asylum. It is clear that Europe must transfer its focus from managing numbers to saving lives.