Migrant and refugee’s perilous journeys across the Mediterranean claim nearly 4 lives each day


Despite Europe’s efforts to curb migration, tens of thousands of migrants and refugees continued to attempt the perilous journey across the Mediterranean during 2018. Many continued to die doing so. Sadly, drowning migrants and refugees seem to have just become part of what we expect to hear every time we tune in to hear the news.

Is anybody really still paying attention? Maybe.

Does anybody really care? Probably.

Is anybody really doing something about it? Clearly not the governments whose job is precisely to protect and assist these people.

An estimated 50 migrants/refugees drown off the coast of Tunisia

Just this week-end, close to 50 people died when their boat capsized off the coast of Tunisia while 68 were rescued by Tunisian coast guards. Most passengers were reported to be Tunisian while others came from many other African countries. Since the tightening of Europe’s ‘external borders’, Tunisia has become a new route for migrants and refugees trying to reach Europe.

report published last April by the UN Refugee Agency pointed out that measures taken by Europe and its African « partners » to close the borders had resulted in migrants and refugees forced to find alternative, often more dangerous, routes to reach Europe. As a result, they face increasing threats to their physical and psychological well-being, sometimes they simply die.

On average four people die each day trying to reach Europe

According to the International Migration Organisation (IOM), so far in 2018 some 32’000 migrants and refugees have reached Europe by sea. Another 5’000 people have reached Europe by land. An estimated 660 people have drowned while attempting the journey. That’s nearly 4 people dying each day.

Map of deaths
« Those who did not cross (2005-2015) ». Click the map to learn more. Source: Levi Westerveld, 20 January 2017

IOM’s ‘live’ web page Migration flows -Europe keeps track of migration flows and also records deaths. [Update: as of 8 June 2018, the number of dead and missing reached 785]

Assisting and even saving migrants has also become more difficult and dangerous for humanitarian organisations and workers.

Humanitarians sidelined from rescue operations

In an article recently published by the Swiss newspaper journal Le Temps, entitled « Piège en haute mer« , reporters who have spent two weeks aboard the Aquarius, a humanitarian ship operated by Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), tell about the difficulties experienced by these humanitarians to fulfil their mandate to save lives.

With the EU now outsourcing the rescue operations to the Libyan coast guards, migrants are intercepted, then brought back to the chaotic post-Kadhafi Libya, the country they were precisely trying to flee. NGOs like SOS Méditerranée who had taken over rescue operations after the cancelling of the Mare Nostrum operation in 2014, are gradually being sidelined from rescuing operations. When the Aquarius tries to save migrants from an overcrowded boat that is about to sink, they are chased away by menacing Libyan coast guards who simply tell them to « Go away » so as not to « interfere » in the operation. That day, MSF came very close from saving them and bringing them back to safety in Europe.

Instead these desperate migrants and refugees are on their way back to Libya where they will be put in detention centers, often in inhumane conditions. According to Amnesty International, who accuses European governments of complicity, many of these centers are run by militias and criminal gangs and many migrants are « unlawfully detained in inhuman conditions and subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, including sexual violence. »

Do European governments think that these migrants and refugees will give up and simply return to where they come from? No, they will try and try and try again, until they succeed or they die. You cannot stop migration. What is needed is to ensure and enhance legal avenues for migration with more safe and legal channels. This will require a radical change to EU migration policy.