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27,000 irregular migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean over the past 10 years

March 26, 2024 at 5:23 pm

The lives of an estimated 100 migrants whose boat engine had failed were put at risk after Libya coastguards carried out ‘dangerous manoeuvres’ near their boat in international waters on 16 March 2024. [@seawatch_intl/X/Twitter]

At least 63,285 people have perished or disappeared on migration routes around the world between 2014 and 2023, with most deaths caused by drowning, the UN migration agency said today, according to Reuters.

A report published by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) on its Missing Migrants Project showed that the majority of deaths and disappearances – 28,854 – occurred in the Mediterranean, followed by Africa and Asia.

Nearly 60 per cent of deaths documented were linked to drowning, and more than one third of those identified were from countries in conflict, including Afghanistan, Myanmar, Syria and Ethiopia.

IOM’s data showed that the deadliest year for migrants in the last decade was 2023, when it recorded 8,541 deaths in part due to a sharp increase of fatalities in the Mediterranean.

“The increase in deaths is likely linked to the increase in departures and, correspondingly, shipwrecks, off the coast of Tunisia,” the report said, adding that at least 729 people died off the Tunisian coast in 2023, compared to 462 in 2022.

READ: 139 irregular immigrants pushed to death rescued by Turkiye

“In all prior years, most deaths in the Central Mediterranean were documented off the coast of Libya.”

With anti-immigration parties steadily gaining influence across Europe for years, governments have attempted to curb migration flows to their countries by pledging funds to countries across the Mediterranean such as Tunisia and Egypt.

Earlier this month, the EU pledged a €7.4 billion ($8 billion) funding package to Egypt that Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni described as “the best way to address migratory flows.”

A number of civil society organisations wrote to the EU head last week and called on her to “take all necessary measures to ensure that human rights, social and environmental sustainability, and equity are mainstreamed in the EU-Egypt bilateral agreement.”

“Our concerns regarding the content and scope of this partnership – based on the one the EU signed with Tunisia in 2023 – stem from Egypt’s appalling human rights record, including in areas, such as border control and migration management, which the deal covers,” they added.

The governments of several European countries, including Italy, Hungary and Britain, have made curbing immigration a top priority, while elsewhere far-right parties like France’s National Rally, led by Marine Le Pen, have gained popularity.

Religious leaders are among those who have called for greater compassion towards migrants. Pope Francis has called for a pan-European response to migration to stop the Mediterranean from becoming “a sea of death”.

READ: Libya coastguard blocked rescue of migrants at sea, rights group says