Rabat - More than 1,500 migrants have died in the Mediterranean in 2018 while trying to reach Europe, according to UNHCR.
Rabat – More than 1,500 migrants have died in the Mediterranean in 2018 while trying to reach Europe, according to UNHCR.
Recent EU and partner governments’ measures to curb the flow of irregular migration to Europe has reportedly borne fruit: the number of undocumented migrants who reached EU countries by sea has halved in 2018 when compared to figures for the years 2014-2017, according to AFP.
Last week, Mustafa El Khalfi, the Moroccan government’s spokesperson, said that in 2017 Moroccan authorities stopped more than 65,000 irregular migrants from crossing to Europe. El Khalfi was trying to convince the EU of Morocco’s improving performance in stemming the flow of migrants to the EU.
But while the number of migrants’ successful attempts to reach EU countries has considerably decreased, the migrant death toll has jumped in recent months, UNHCR has found. The rate of deaths in the Mediterranean this year is far higher than previous years. According to the UN body, more than 1,500 people have died at sea since January 2018.
The UN agency noted that the large majority of at-sea deaths this year were refugees fleeing the war in Syria. More noticeably perhaps, HCR’s statement noted that more than half of the deaths occurred between June and July, suggesting worsening conditions this summer as EU governments convened in the last two weeks to devise a collective policy to tackle the crisis.
Although the statement shied away from calling out names, it suggested that the rise in migrants’ deaths in the Mediterranean was caused by a recent crackdown on irregular migration. Some EU member states began to refuse entrance to rescue ships with “desperate migrants” on board.
In late June, Italy and Malta sparked international criticism when they shut down ports to vessels carrying rescued migrants.
Precarious conditions at sea
But the primary problem noted in the UN’s agency report is the precarious conditions in which migrants cross the sea. The document cited the surge of human traffickers making a profit off the desperation of migrants wanting to reach Europe at all costs.
Traffickers put migrants’ lives at risk by packing them in “overloaded, unseaworthy and flimsy vessels.” The vessels “are then left to sail out at sea in the hope that rescue will come in time.”
“In order to save lives at sea, we must use appropriate and necessary measures to hold to account those who seek to gain profit from the exploitation of vulnerable human beings.”
Calling for more international cooperation to fight human trafficking networks, Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR’s special envoy for the Mediterranean, said that “states and authorities along transit routes” should push for “all necessary action to dismantle and disrupt smuggler networks.”
UNHCR also urged EU governments to consider the humanitarian aspect of the migration crisis. Indirectly referring to Italy and Malta’s recent controversial decision to prevent rescue ships from docking, the UN agency said that Europe should be more receptive and welcoming in cases where lives are at stake, especially of refugees fleeing war and other devastating living conditions.
“With so many lives at stake, it’s vital that we give shipmasters confidence that they will be able to dock rescued passengers, and thereby ensure that the long-standing principle of rescuing people in distress at sea is protected,” Cochetel said.