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IOM: Deaths on maritime migration routes to Europe soar in first half of 2021

  • Published at 01:35 pm July 14th, 2021
Mediterranean Migrant Crisis
File Photo: Migrants are rescued during a search and rescue (SAR) operation in the Mediterranean Sea on July 4, 2021 Reuters

The number of people attempting to cross to Europe via the Mediterranean increased by 58% compared to first six months in 2020

At least 1,146 people died attempting to reach Europe by sea in the first six months of 2021, according to a new briefing released by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) on Wednesday. 

Deaths along these routes more than doubled so far this year compared to the same period in 2020, when 513 migrants are known to have drowned.

The brief sheds light on the ongoing situation along some of the most dangerous maritime migration routes worldwide. 

While the number of people attempting to cross to Europe via the Mediterranean increased by 58% between January and June this year compared to the same period in 2020, more than twice as many people have lost their lives.

Also Read - Bangladeshis among 178 migrants rescued in Mediterranean

“IOM reiterates the call on states to take urgent and proactive steps to reduce loss of life on maritime migration routes to Europe and uphold their obligations under international law,” says IOM Director General António Vitorino. 

“Increasing search-and-rescue (SAR) efforts, establishing predictable disembarkation mechanisms and ensuring access to safe and legal migration pathways are key steps towards achieving this goal.”

The analysis, produced by the Missing Migrants Project at the IOM’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC), shows an increase in deaths coupled with insufficient search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean and on the Atlantic Route to the Canary Islands, and at a time when interceptions off the North African coast are also on the rise.

So far, in 2021, most of the men, women and children who died trying to reach Europe were attempting to cross the Mediterranean, where 896 deaths have been documented by IOM.

Migrants of South Asian origin rescued by Tunisia's national guard during an attempted crossing of the Mediterranean by boat rest at the port of el-Ketef in Ben Guerdane in southern Tunisia near the border with Libya on June 24, 2021 | AFP

At least 741 people died on the Central Mediterranean route, while 149 people lost their lives crossing the Western Mediterranean and six died on the Eastern Mediterranean route from Turkey to Greece.

In the same period, some 250 people drowned attempting to reach Spain’s Canary Islands on the West Africa/Atlantic route. However, that count may well be low. 

Hundreds of cases of invisible shipwrecks have been reported by NGOs in direct contact with those on board or with their families. 

Such cases, which are extremely difficult to verify, indicate that deaths on maritime routes to Europe are far higher than available data show.

Also Read - Tunisia rescues 264 Bangladeshi migrants adrift in Mediterranean Sea

One example is from March 24, when Sohail Al Sagheer, a 22-year-old Algerian rapper, went missing when he and nine friends left from Oran, Algeria to Spain. 

His family conducted a frantic search for information about what happened to him, torn with rumours that he was among the victims of a shipwreck off Almería, Spain. His remains were finally recovered on April 5, off the coast of Aïn Témouchent, Algeria.

The brief also shows an increase for the second consecutive year in North African states' maritime operations along the Central Mediterranean route. 

More than 31,500 people were intercepted or rescued by North African authorities in the first half of 2021, compared to 23,117 in the first six months of 2020.

Such operations off the coast of Tunisia have increased by 90% in the first six months of 2021 compared to 2020. In addition, over 15,300 people were returned to Libya in the first six months of 2021, almost three times higher than the same period in 2020 (5,476 people). 

This is concerning given that migrants who are returned to Libya are subjected to arbitrary detention, extortion, disappearances, and torture.

The briefing highlights the ongoing data gaps on irregular maritime migration to Europe. 

Better data, IOM said, can help states urgently address their commitments under Objective 8 of the Global Compact for Migration to “save lives and establish coordinated international efforts on missing migrants.”

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