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IOM says first quarter of 2023 deadliest for migrants crossing Mediterranean

April 12, 2023 at 8:59 pm

Refugees are seen after being rescued from the Mediterranean Sea on 15 June 2017 [Marcus Drinkwater/Anadolu Agency]

The United Nations International Organisation for Migration (IOM) described the first three months of 2023 as the “deadliest” for migrants crossing the central Mediterranean since 2017, Anadolu News Agency reported.

In a report released Wednesday, IOM said delays in State-led rescue responses and hindrance to search and rescue (SAR) operations carried out by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have contributed to the rise in deaths.

IOM’s Missing Migrants Project has documented the deaths of 441 migrants along the dangerous sea route between North Africa and the southern shores of Europe during this period, noting that the true toll is likely to be higher.

Commenting on the newly released figures, IOM’s Director-General, António Vitorino, said “the persisting humanitarian crisis in the Central Mediterranean is intolerable”.

“With more than 20,000 deaths recorded on this route since 2014, I fear that these deaths have been normalised. States must respond. Delays and gaps in State-led SAR are costing human lives,” he added.

IOM said the true number of deaths among migrants who set out on unseaworthy rubber boats or rickety fishing boats remains “unknown”, because the bodies of people who die at sea “often remain missing”, noting that the death figures it issues are usually based on the accounts of survivors, who report the death of some of those who were with them during the migration journey, or in the case of the presence of bodies that can be monitored.

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The report has criticised policies aimed at complicating the work of rescue boats operating in the central Mediterranean by humanitarian organisations, without naming the countries that impose such policies.

However, it referred to an incident that occurred on 25 March, when the Libyan Coast Guard fired shots in the air as an NGO rescue ship, Ocean King, was responding to a report of a rubber boat in distress.

The following day, another vessel, the Louise Michel, was detained in Italy after rescuing 180 people, reminiscent of the situation of the Geo Barents, which was detained in February and, subsequently, released.

On Tuesday, Italy’s right-wing Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, and her cabinet declared a six-month state of emergency to deal with the recent surge in migrants arriving in the country.

Meloni and her allies’ plan included repatriating migrants who do not qualify for asylum.

According to the Italian Ministry of Interior, 31,192 migrants have arrived in Italy by sea since the beginning of this year.