A cayuko filled with African migrants on the Mediterranean sea, intercepted by KBV 001 Poseidon / Photo by Swedish Coast Guard
03 Feb 2019

Six refugees die on the Mediterranean every day - despite lower number of migrants


The number of refugees trying to reach Europe over the Mediterranean is decreasing, but their journeys are still dangerous and often deadly. On average, six people per day die at sea, according to a new UN report.

"Unfortunately, effective cooperation between different countries is very slow in coming", says Didzis Melbiksis at UNHCR.

An estimated 2,275 refugees and migrants died in the Mediterranean last year, the UNHCR report for 2018 shows.

This is especially alarming since the death toll is high despite the fact that fewer people are trying to cross the sea to Europe.

A total of 139,300 people arrived in Spain, Italy and Greece last year. Most came via the sea. It is the lowest figure in five years, and to be compared with just over 172,000 people in 2017 and just over one million during the crisis year of 2015.

Higher death rate

Although the total number of deaths decreases, the situation remains gloomy. Most of last year's fatalities, 1 100 people, had traveled in boats from Libya.  On at least ten occasions over 50 people drowned in a single incident.

"If we look at those who come from Libya and are trying to reach Europe, one in 14 who have died. It's a very high percentage. In 2017, it was one on 38, so the death rate has become higher", says Didzis Melbiksis, spokesperson for UNHCR in northern Europe.

Especially dangerous was the route across the western Mediterranean to Spain, where the number of deaths increased from 202 in 2017,  to 777 in 2018.

"A question of political will"

Didzis Melbiksis points out that not only has the number of boat refugees on the Mediterranean fallen sharply, but also the total number of asylum seekers in Europe has decreased.

"The situation is completely manageable. It is a matter of political will. If we survived in 2015, we can handle this", he says.

According to the report, a big problem is that people get stuck on ships out at sea without the possibility of entering the any of the European harbors.

"It may take days or even weeks before the countries agree on who is to receive them. It is dangerous, especially for already physically vulnerable people,  to be stuck on the Mediterranean for that long", says Didzis Melbiksis.

"We must organize this better"

Another concern is that ships from non-governmental organizations are prevented from intervening or dropping off shipwrecked refugees in the harbours.

"There must be a better organization around this. When people have been saved, there must be a more coordinated system for receiving them. There must be clarity on how people will be distributed among different countries, whether they are migrants or refugees".

Among last year's glimmers of hope is that several countries agreed to evacuate the people who had been in log term custody in camps in Tripoli in Libya, says Didzis Melbiksis.

"Almost 2,500 people were saved that way".


Cover Photo: A migrant boat filled with African migrants on the Mediterranean sea, intercepted by KBV 001 Poseidon / Photo by Swedish Coast Guard

More than 139,000 people came to Europe by boats across the Mediterranean in 2018. In this photo, a migrant boat is intercepted by the Swedish Coast Guard ship "Poseidon" in 2015.

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