Mediterranean crossings deadlier than ever, new UNHCR report shows
Three years on from the shocking images of lifeless Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi on a Turkish beach, a new report by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency shows that crossing the Mediterranean Sea has become even more deadly.
UNHCR’s new Desperate Journeys report shows that more than 1,600 people have died or gone missing while attempting to reach Europe so far this year.
The report shows that while the total number of people arriving in Europe has fallen, the rate of deaths has risen sharply, particularly for those crossing via the Mediterranean Sea. In the Central Mediterranean, one person died or went missing for every 18 people who crossed to Europe between January and July 2018, compared to one death for every 42 people who crossed in the same period in 2017.
“This report once again confirms the Mediterranean as one of the world’s deadliest sea crossings,” said 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 recent months, UNHCR, together with the UN Migration Agency, IOM, has called for a predictable, regional approach for the rescue and disembarkation of people in distress in the Mediterranean Sea.
UNHCR is also calling on Europe to increase access to safe and legal pathways for refugees, including by increasing resettlement places and removing obstacles to family reunification – helping to provide alternatives to potentially deadly journeys.
Along the Eastern Mediterranean route from Turkey, at least 99 people are known to have died at sea so far this year in just five incidents, more than double the 38 reported dead in the same period last year. The reported deaths this year include 44 persons believed dead when their boat capsized en route to Cyprus in July. So far this year, 56 people have died while trying to cross by sea to Cyprus, a route on which no deaths have been reported over the past few years. With only 73 sea arrivals recorded to Cyprus as of the end of July, the rate of deaths in relation to those who have crossed is extremely high.
The majority of the people who arrive to Cyprus by sea are Syrian refugees – men, women and children, including unaccompanied children – who in the absence of safe alternatives resort to smugglers and traffickers to make the dangerous crossing in order to reunite with spouses, parents and other family members already on the island. It is therefore imperative, also in Cyprus, to strengthen safe alternatives to the perilous sea journeys, including by removing obstacles to family reunification.
The report also outlines the dangers refugees face while traveling along land routes to or within Europe. Noting the steps that some have taken to prevent refugees and migrants from accessing their territory, the report urges States to grant those seeking international protection readily-available access to asylum procedures. It also appeals to States to strengthen mechanisms to protect children traveling alone and seeking asylum.
Best-selling author UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Khaled Hosseini, himself a former refugee from Afghanistan, has published a new illustrated book, coinciding with the three-year anniversary of Kurdi’s death. ‘Sea Prayer’ is dedicated to the thousands of refugees who have perished around the world while fleeing war, violence and persecution.
“When I saw those devastating images of the body of Alan Kurdi, my heart shattered,” said Hosseini. “Yet, just three years on and despite thousands more people losing their lives at sea, our collective memory and urgency to do better seems to have faded.”
In June and July 2018, Hosseini visited Lebanon and Italy and saw the devastating impact on families who have lost relatives while attempting to reach Europe.
“In Sicily I visited a lonely, unkempt cemetery full of unmarked graves of people – including many children – who have drowned on journeys just like Alan’s in the past years,” said Hosseini. “Each one of those people is now reduced to just a number, a code on a grave, but they were all men, women and children who dared to dream of a brighter future. Three years on from Alan’s death, it’s time we came together to do more to prevent future tragedies and let our friends, families, communities and governments know that we stand with refugees.”
Access the full report here.
- Along the Central Mediterranean route, so far this year there have been ten incidents in which 50 or more people died, most after departing from Libya. Seven of these incidents have been since June.
- Along the sea route from North Africa to Spain, more than 300 people have perished this year already, a marked increase on 2017 – when 200 deaths were recorded in the whole year.
- In April this year, when over 1,200 reached Spain by sea, the rate of deaths climbed as high as one death for every 14 persons arriving in Spain by sea.
- More than 78 deaths of refugees and migrants have been recorded so far along land routes in Europe or at Europe’s borders compared to 45 in the same period last year.
- In 2017, over 500 people (almost all Syrians) had crossed by sea to Cyprus from Turkey in the first seven months of 2017. This year, however, fewer than 100 arrived in the same period, although the Turkish Coast Guard rescued or intercepted several hundred others headed that way. This year an increase in Syrians arriving in Cyprus via air after traveling from Lebanon has also been observed.
- Some 2,000 people have arrived in Cyprus on 40 separate boat arrivals since 2015. The number of people seeking asylum in Cyprus has continued to show marked increases over the years, mostly due to the ongoing conflict in Syria: 1,887 in 2014; 2,108 in 2015; 2,871 in 2016 and 4,499 in 2017. A total of 2,886 persons applied for asylum in the first six months of 2018.
For more information on journeys to Europe, contact:
- In Nicosia, Emilia Strovolidou, [email protected], +357 22 359 057
- In Geneva, Charlie Yaxley, [email protected], +41 795 808 702
- In Bulgaria, Borislav Grozdanov, [email protected], +359 878 865 43
- In Bosnia/Western Balkans, Neven Crvenkovic, [email protected], +387 61 611 082
- In France, Céline Schmitt, [email protected], +33 6 23 16 11 78
- In Germany, Chris Melzer, [email protected], + 49 151 706 660 13
- In Greece, Leo Dobbs, [email protected], +30 694 866 8989 or Boris Cheshirkov, [email protected], +30 69 51 85 46 61
- In Hungary/Central Europe, Zoran Stevanovic, [email protected], +31 1 336 33 45
- In Italy/South Europe, Carlotta Sami, [email protected], +39 335 679 4746 or Barbara Molinario, [email protected], +39 33 85 46 29 32
- In Spain, María Jesús Vega, [email protected], +34 670 66 12 63
- In Serbia, Mirjana Ivanovic-Milenkovski, [email protected], +381 63 275 154
- In Sweden/Nordic countries, Caroline Bach, [email protected], +46 084 57 48 74
- In the UK, Matthew Saltmarsh, [email protected], +44 7880 230 985
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