Mediterranean, the Deadliest Sea for Refugees, Migrants


Human Wrongs Watch

Geneva – The Mediterranean Sea has become the deadliest stretch of water in the world for migrants and refugees, according to a UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) new report.

Credit:UN

The refugees agency’s estimates for last year talk about more than 1,500 people drowned or went missing while attempting to cross the sea from Africa to reach Europe, making 2011 the deadliest year for this region since UNHCR began recording the statistics in 2006.

Our teams in Greece, Italy, Libya, and Malta, warn that the actual number of deaths at sea may be even higher,” UNHCR spokesperson Sybella Wilkes told reporters in Geneva on 31 January, 2012.

Wilkes added that the UNHCR estimates were based on interviews with migrants who reached Europe by boat, telephone and e-mail communication from their relatives, as well as reports from Libya and Tunisia from survivors whose boats either sank or were in distress.

Trying to Reach Europe

Since pro-democracy protests erupted across North Africa and the Middle East early last year, large numbers of people have taken to boats to try to reach Europe, with Italy and Malta bearing the brunt of the displacement and migration.

Survivors have recounted harrowing stories of being forced onto unseaworthy vessels by armed guards, particularly during April and May in Libya. Some have even reported cases of abuse and torture experienced at the hands of other passengers during the journey.

Wilkes noted that despite poor weather conditions and high seas, UNHCR was disturbed to learn that three boats had already attempted the crossing in 2012, with one going missing at sea.

Call To All Shipmasters

We renew our call to all shipmasters in the Mediterranean, one of the busiest stretches of water in the world, to remain vigilant and to carry out there duty of rescuing vessels in distress,” Wilkes stated.

Of last year’s arrivals by sea, 56,000 landed in Italy while Malta and Greece received 1,574 and 1,000 respectively. In addition, according to the Greek Government, an estimated 55,000 irregular migrants crossed the Greek-Turkish land border.

150 Bead on One Boat

On 3 June 2011, UNHCR reported that at least 150 people have drowned and scores of others are missing after a boat leaving Libya capsized off the Tunisian coast.

The overcrowded boat, which set sail from the Libyan capital, Tripoli, and was headed for Lampedusa in Italy, carried an estimated 850 people, mostly migrants from West Africa, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Some survivors told the UNHCR in Tunisia that the boat was manned by people with little or no maritime experience. Soon after it departed Tripoli, the boat ran into difficulties and by the third day the passengers ran out of food and water.

The boat eventually ran aground on Wednesday near the Kerkennah islands, some 300 kilometres north-west of Tripoli, UNHCR reported. It capsized as desperate passengers rushed to one side, seeking rescue by the Tunisian coast guard and fishing boats that had approached the vessel.

This appears to be one of the worst and the deadliest incidents in the Mediterranean so far this year [2011],” Adrian Edwards, UNHCR spokesperson in Geneva, said.

Read also

Deadly Racism in Italy 

Europeans, the Once Upon a Time Refugees!

Africa’s Boat People, Victims of Abduction, Extortion, Sexual Assault and Kidnapping

Refugees: From Famine Hell in Somalia to Death ‘Haven’ in Yemen… and Back

The Uprooted, an Invisible Nation as Big as Britain

Who Is Afraid of 300 Or 400 Or 500 Million Miserables?

The Huge, Inhuman Power of The Real ‘War Lords’ 

2012 Human Wrongs Watch

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