Sunday, 17 January 2021

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Six people died each day attempting to cross Mediterranean in 2018

unhcr desperate journeys report

Refugees and migrants attempting to reach Europe via the Mediterranean Sea lost their lives at an alarming rate in 2018, as cuts in search and rescue operations reinforced its position as the world’s deadliest sea crossing.

An estimated 2,275 died or went missing crossing the Mediterranean in 2018, despite a major drop in the number of arrivals reaching European shores. The latest ‘Desperate Journeys’ Report, released today by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, says six lives were lost on average every day.

“That this continent with all its power, money, technology and means, allows people to die in the Mediterranean at the rate of six per day is quite dramatic,” Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees told a press conference in Brussels today.

In total, 139,300 refugees and migrants arrived in Europe, the lowest number in five years.

“It is not an emergency, it is manageable and that makes it even worse,” Grandi added, pointing out that poorer countries in different parts of the world are coping with much higher numbers. “There are countries in Africa or in the Middle-East where 139,000 is the figure of refugees that arrive every month not every year, and they manage somehow.”

The report describes how shifts in policy by some European States saw numerous incidents where large numbers of people were left stranded at sea for days on end, waiting for permission to dock. NGO boats and their crews faced growing restrictions on their search and rescue operations.

On routes from Libya to Europe, one person died at sea for every 14 who arrived in Europe – a sharp rise on 2017 levels. Thousands more were returned to Libya where they faced appalling conditions inside detention centres. On average 10 NGO vessels were operating in the Mediterranean in 2017, but only 2 in 2018.

“Many say the NGOs are contributing to the problem. I think this is a wrong argument. This is not what causes the crossings,” Mr. Grandi said.

“Saving lives at sea is not a choice, nor a matter of politics, but an age-old obligation. We can put an end to these tragedies by having the courage and vision to look beyond the next boat, and adopt a long-term approach based on regional cooperation, that places human life and dignity at its core.”

85% of refugee vessels leaving Libya to Europe are now intercepted.

“The problem is that in Libya European countries have reinforced only the coast guard, for reasons you can well imagine,” the High Commissioner said. “That is not a bad thing. But what is the alternative for these people? If they go back they are put into detention centres and you know how horrible they are. There they are at the mercy of militias, of traffickers and of criminals. The problem has not been solved, only postponed or shifted to a place, Libya, where solving it is almost impossible unless there is a political solution to the conflict which I frankly don´t see around the corner.”

The report also reveals significant changes in the routes being used by refugees and migrants. For the first time in recent years, Spain became the primary entry point to Europe as around 6,800 arrived by land (through the enclaves in Ceuta and Melilla) and a further 58,600 people successfully crossed over the perilous Western Mediterranean.

As a result, the death toll for the western Mediterranean nearly quadrupled from 202 in 2017 to 777. Some 23,400 refugees and migrants arrived in Italy in 2018, a fivefold decrease compared to the previous year. Greece received a similar number of sea arrivals, some 32,500 compared to 30,000 in 2017, but saw a near threefold increase in the number of people arriving via its land border with Turkey.

The Desperate Journeys Report:


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