An estimated 2,275 people, or six a day, died or went missing crossing the Mediterranean in 2018, making it the world's deadliest sea crossing, despite a significant drop in arrivals reaching European shores, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said Wednesday.
"Refugees and migrants attempting to reach Europe via the Mediterranean Sea lost their lives at an alarming rate in 2018, as cuts in search and rescue operations reinforced its position as the world's deadliest sea crossing," said the UNHCR in its latest "Desperate Journeys" report released Wednesday.In total, 139,300 refugees and migrants arrived in Europe in 2018, the lowest number in five years.
"Saving lives at sea is not a choice, nor a matter of politics, but an age-old obligation," said Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
The report describes how shifts in policy by some European States saw numerous incidents left large numbers of people stranded at sea for days on end, waiting for permission to dock.NGO boats and their crews faced growing restrictions on their search and rescue operations.On routes from Libya to Europe, one person died at sea for every 14 who arrived in Europe - a sharp rise on 2017 levels.
Thousands more returned to Libya where they faced appalling conditions inside detention centers."For many, setting foot in Europe was the final stop of a nightmarish journey on which they had faced torture, rape and sexual assault, and the threat of being kidnapped and held for ransom," said UNHCR.It said States must take urgent action to dismantle smuggling networks and bring perpetrators of these crimes to justice.
The UN agency noted a glimmer of hope in some places.
Despite political deadlock on a regional approach to sea rescue and disembarkation, as called for by UNHCR and IOM in June, several States committed to relocating people rescued on the central Mediterranean.Some countries also pledged thousands of resettlement places for those evacuating Libya.
For the first time in recent years, Spain was the primary European entry point as around 8,000 arrived by land (via the Ceuta and Melilla enclaves) and a further 54,800 people successfully crossed the perilous Western Mediterranean.As a result, western Mediterranean deaths nearly quadrupled from 202 in 2017 to 777.