The year 2022 has witnessed a significant escalation in migrant drowning incidents in the Mediterranean, resulting in hundreds of victims.
Fleeing war, poverty, and difficult living conditions, thousands of migrants and asylum seekers have died or gone missing in their efforts to cross the Mediterranean into Europe.
As people are forced to take ever more dangerous routes, the tragedy on the Mediterranean continues. 2021 closed with a death toll of more than 1,500 lives lost over the year: meanwhile, more than 32,000 people were intercepted and returned to Libya where the situation deteriorates further.
Prevention and deterrence measures in Europe – most notably, systematic pushback operations by Greek authorities – have forced people in need of protection to take more dangerous alternatives to the Eastern Mediterranean route.
According to statistics from Frontex, the EU border and coast guard agency, there were more than 65,000 “illegal” border crossings on the Central Mediterranean route to the EU in the first 11 months of 2021 – 89 per cent more than in 2020 and 380 per cent more than in 2019.
Statistics from the agency further reveal that 2021 marked the highest number of deaths along irregular migration routes since 2017 with 3,029 confirmed fatalities. The vast majority of deaths occurred on the Atlantic route as well as the Western and Central Mediterranean routes.
Statistics from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) find that 1,552 people died or went missing on the Central Mediterranean route in 2021 as of 25 December.
Search and rescue blog the Civil Fleet states that: “1,100 people were rescued by civilian rescuers on three NGO ships in the central Mediterranean over the Christmas and New Year holidays”, while also underlining the continued lack of efficient action by European authorities keeping “Doctors Without Borders (MSF) Geo Barents, SOS Méditerranée‘s Ocean Viking, and Sea-Watch’s Sea-Watch 3 at sea for days after their crews had saved hundreds of lives. The NGO hotline Alarm Phone has reported 11 people missing since 31 December between Algeria and Italy.
In April 2022, nearly 100 people have presumably died in the Mediterranean Sea in one of the worst shipwrecks involving migrants in recent years, the United Nations said. According to the medical charity MSF, four survivors were rescued by a commercial vessel.
The four survivors of the shipwreck told MSF they had been on board a boat carrying nearly 100 people for at least four days. According to the news agency AFP, the group had set off from Libya and was trying to reach Europe.
Their overcrowded vessel had capsized and sunk in international waters, AFP reported. According to MSF, a commercial tanker, the Alegria 1, rescued four people from a life raft on April 2.
From northern Africa to Europe
In recent years, Libya has become a key departure point for African and Asian migrants seeking to reach Europe.
Human traffickers, benefiting from the decade of conflict and lawlessness in Libya, smuggle migrants across the country’s lengthy borders with six other northern African countries. The migrants are then packed into overcrowded and unseaworthy rubber boats that frequently sink or encounter difficulties on the high seas.
The main destination of migrants trying to reach European territory by boat from Libya and neighbouring Tunisia in Italy. Arrivals to the EU member state have surged since revolts in Libya and Tunisia toppled their respective leaders in 2011, with a record 181,000 people arriving in Italy in 2016. Last year, more than 67,000 people arrived in Italy by sea, according to UNHCR data.
Rights groups have called the Central Mediterranean the world’s deadliest migration route. The IOM’s Missing Migrants Project estimates that more than 1,500 people drowned in the Central Mediterranean in 2021 while trying to reach European shores. The real number is likely a lot higher.
‘Urgent need of protection’
According to UN migration agency IOM, Libya’s coast guard has intercepted and returned more than 3,000 migrants so far this year, the vast majority of the men. Last year, more than 32,000 migrants were returned. Once back in Libya, they are typically subjected to systemic abuse and ill-treatment at government-run detention centres.
The European Union has been repeatedly criticized for its close cooperation, funding and training of Libya’s coast guard with the stated goal of preventing migrants from making it to Europe.