The number of migrant deaths in the central Mediterranean reached a six-year high in the first three months of 2023, according to a new report on Wednesday by the United Nations International Organization for Migration (IOM).
In the first quarter of the year, IOM documented the deaths of 441 migrants attempting what the agency called “the world’s most dangerous sea crossing”. This is the highest number of deaths for three months since the first quarter of 2017, when 742 deaths were recorded, according to IOM figures.
every year Thousands of immigrantsSometimes rickety and overcrowded smugglers try to reach Europe’s southern coast from North Africa.
Over the past weekend, 3,000 migrants arrived in Italy, bringing the total number of migrant arrivals to Europe via the central Mediterranean so far this year to 31,192, the IOM said.
The report seeks to serve as a wake-up call that food insecurity, the COVID-19 pandemic and global violent conflict have dramatically increased the movement of both migrants and refugees around the world.
“The continuing humanitarian crisis in the central Mediterranean is intolerable,” IOM Director-General Antonio Vitorino said in a statement. “With more than 20,000 deaths recorded on this route since 2014, I fear these deaths have been normalized.”
“States must respond,” Vitorino said, adding that delays and gaps in search and rescue operations “are costing lives.”
The IOM noted in its report that the number of recorded deaths “probably underestimates the actual number of lives lost in the central Mediterranean”.
“Protecting life at sea is a legal obligation for states,” the IOM chief said, adding that “steps need to be taken to dismantle criminal smuggling networks responsible for profiting from the desperation of migrants and refugees by facilitating dangerous journeys.”
Delays in government-led rescues along the route are one of the reasons for hundreds of deaths, the report said.
The report is part of the IOM’s Missing Migrants project, which documents the central Mediterranean route taken by migrants from North Africa and the Turkish coast, often crossing from Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Algeria to Italy and Malta. These countries serve as a transit point from all parts of the world, and did so For many years.
Italy last November announcement That it would close its ports to migrant ships operated by non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
The report mentions a February shipwreck At least 64 migrants have died on Italy’s Calabrian coast.
It also referred to a boat carrying about 400 migrants that drifted between Italy and Malta last weekend, before reaching the Italian coast guard after two days of suffering. In a video posted on social media on Wednesday, a spokesperson for Sea-Watch International, an NGO, criticized Malta for not assisting the ship, saying that Malta did not send a rescue ship “because they want to avoid” migrants “reaching their country.”
“Until this year, Malta has not rescued anyone in distress,” the spokesperson alleged.
Italy, for its part, declared a state of emergency on Tuesday over the migrant crisis, pressing the European Union for help.
Efforts to crackdown on smuggling vessels have pushed migrants to take the longer and more dangerous Atlantic route from northwest Africa to Europe, resulting in what an Associated Press investigation called “ghost boats” washed up with corpses, sometimes abandoned by their captains.
“Every person seeking a better life deserves safety and dignity,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, a former refugee chief, said in February as the death toll rose. “We need safe, legal pathways for immigrants and refugees.”