Migrant deaths in the Mediterranean exceed 2,000 this year

After another 17 migrants died on the journey across the Mediterranean on 5 November 2018, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the number of migrant deaths in the Mediterranean this year has exceeded 2,000.

Approximately 105,000 asylum seekers have arrived in Europe this year, a drop to pre-2014 levels. However, the proportion of people dying at sea has increased. “The Mediterranean has for several years been the world’s deadliest sea route for refugees and migrants. That it continues to be so should be unacceptable to all,” said UNHCR spokesperson, Charlie Yaxley, at a UN briefing on 6 November in Geneva, Switzerland. The UN refugee agency has called repeatedly for urgent action to address the situation.

Spain is this year’s top destination for migrants and asylum seekers with more than 53,000 arrivals by sea, double that in Greece and Italy combined. But more than half of those 2,000 who died were headed for Italian shores, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). This in part is caused by the ban imposed by newly elected far right government in Italy, which banned rescue boats from aid agencies at ports in Italy since 26 August 2018.

“Any vessel with the capability to assist search and rescue operations should be allowed to come to the aid of those in need,” said Yaxley. “UNHCR continues to be very concerned about the legal and logistical restrictions that have been placed on a number of NGOs wishing to conduct search and rescue operations, including the Aquarius. These have had the cumulative effect of the Central Mediterranean currently having no NGO vessels conducting SAR.”

While commending the efforts by the Libyan Coast Guard to beef up rescue efforts, the UN Refugee Agency also reiterated that people rescued in international waters should not be brought back to Libya where conditions are not safe. International waters refer to the area beyond 12 nautical mile mark (22.22km) of the territorial waters of Libya.

TMP – 16/11/2018

Photo: MOAS.eu. Distressed migrants drowning in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Libya.