Table of Contents
The Mediterranean Sea migration route stands as one of the most prominent and challenging pathways for migrants and refugees seeking to reach Europe. Stretching between the continents of Africa and Europe, it has become a critical focal point in global migration patterns.
The journey across the Mediterranean is fraught with peril, as individuals embark on overcrowded and often unseaworthy vessels, driven by a multitude of motivations including fleeing conflict, escaping persecution, and pursuing better economic opportunities.
This route has witnessed a significant rise in casualties and missing persons, underscoring the urgency for coordinated international efforts to address the complex humanitarian and political challenges it presents.
Heavy Toll Due to Migration Crisis
Between January and September 24, there has been a significant increase in the number of casualties and missing individuals trying to cross the Mediterranean. Ruven Menikdiwela, the director of the New York office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, reported over 2,500 such cases, up from 1,680 in the same period last year.
Additionally, the UNHCR estimates that more than 102,000 refugees and migrants from Tunisia (a 260% increase from last year) and over 45,000 from Libya attempted to cross the central Mediterranean to Europe between January and August.
During a briefing to the UN Security Council, Ruven Menikdiwela, who heads the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in New York, stated that out of the 186,000 individuals who had made the crossing over the Mediterranean, a substantial majority, approximately 83 percent or around 130,000 people, arrived in Italy. Additionally, people who had completed the Mediterranean journey also disembarked in countries such as Greece, Spain, Cyprus, and Malta.
The European Union has neglected its duty to ensure search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean. EU vessels are not actively patrolling the areas where most boats face distress. Frontex, the EU’s border and coast guard, primarily conducts aerial surveillance for the purpose of intercepting and returning migrants, rather than carrying out rescues. Despite ample evidence of severe mistreatment and detention of migrants in Libya, the EU supports Libyan forces in their efforts to spot boats and return people.
EU governments and institutions have largely ignored the illegal and perilous practice of pushing boats back to Turkey by Greece in the Aegean Sea. The hotline for migrants and refugees in distress at sea, Alarm Phone, consistently reports instances of the Maltese authorities failing to respond to cases in their extensive search and rescue area (SAR).
The Need for Such Treacherous Migration Route
The Mediterranean route is the most lethal path for migration globally. According to the International Organization for Migration, around 22,400 migrants and asylum seekers have lost their lives in their endeavours to reach the European Union since 2000, with a significant number of these tragedies occurring at sea. In 2014, over 3,500 people perished at sea, marking it as the deadliest year on record. With an estimated 2,500 possible deaths in the Mediterranean in the months of 2023, this year may unfortunately set a new grim record.
Individuals getting on this treacherous journey belong from diverse parts of the world but what they have in common is a lack of social and economic security in their motherlands so they reach out to Europe in search of a housing, better employment or even an escape from conflict and torture in their countries.
After being rescued from a crowded rubber raft this summer, a 16-year-old boy from the Gambia shared with the BBC that he left his home three years ago with the intention of working hard to support his family. Despite being well aware of the dangers associated with the voyage, having lost an 18-year-old friend during the crossing, he remained undeterred. He explained that his friend had sacrificed his life for the sake of his family, society, and nation.
This year, Tunisia has surpassed Libya as the primary departure point, amidst a surge of racial discrimination against black Africans.
According to Nando Sigona, a migration expert and professor at the University of Birmingham, some argue that the crossing through Libya remains more perilous. This is attributed to both geographical and political factors. He points out that the opening up of the Eastern Libya route, controlled by militias supported by Wagner, has a greater impact in terms of fatalities.
This route is significantly longer and brings boats closer to the border between Italian and Greek national waters. Currently, both governments are hesitant to be seen as actively conducting rescue operations for migrants at sea, as evidenced by the Greek shipwreck in June.
Meanwhile, the leaders of nine Mediterranean and southern European countries, including France’s Emmanuel Macron and Italy’s Giorgia Meloni, are set to meet in Malta for talks focusing on migration. The summit comes on Friday, a day after the UN refugee organisation said more than 2,500 migrants had perished or disappeared attempting to cross the Mediterranean so far this year – substantially more than at the same point in 2022.