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Migrant drownings on the rise in the Med

1 May 20230 comments

The Missing Migrant Project (MMP) has documented 441 migrant deaths in the central Mediterranean in the three months of 2023, the highest on record since 2017.

The MMP, a branch of the International Organisation for Migration, says the increasing loss of life on the world’s most dangerous maritime crossing comes amid reports of delays in State-led rescues and hindrance of the operations of NGO search and rescue vessels in the Mediterranean.

The MMP report says delays in State-led rescues on the Central Mediterranean route were a factor in at least six incidents this year leading to the deaths of at least 127 people.

It says the complete absence of response to a seventh case claimed the lives of at least 73 migrants.

And recently, NGO-led search and rescue efforts have been diminished.

“On 25 March, the Libyan Coast Guard fired shots in the air as NGO rescue ship Ocean Viking was responding to a report of a rubber boat in distress,” the report said.

“Separately, on Sunday, 26 March, another vessel, the Louise Michel, was detained in Italy after rescuing 180 people at sea, echoing an earlier case in which the Geo Barents was detained in February and subsequently released.

“Over the Easter weekend, 3,000 migrants reached Italy, bringing the total number of arrivals so far this year to 31,192 people.

“A vessel carrying roughly 800 people on board was rescued on Tuesday, 11 April, more than 200 kilometres southeast of Sicily by the Italian Coast Guard with the assistance of a commercial vessel.

“Another ship with around 400 migrants was reportedly adrift between Italy and Malta for two days before being reached by the Italian Coast. Not all migrants from these ships have reached safety and disembarked in Italy yet,” the MMP report said.

IOM Director General António Vitorino said the persisting humanitarian crisis in the central Mediterranean was “intolerable”.

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

“Saving lives at sea is a legal obligation for States,” said Vitorino. “We need to see proactive State-led coordination in search and rescue efforts. Guided by the spirit of responsibility-sharing and solidarity, we call on States to work together and work to reduce loss of life along migration routes,” he said.

The report said that the 441 deaths documented in the first three months of the year are likely to be an undercount of the true number of lives lost in the Central Mediterranean with the MMP investigating several reports of invisible shipwrecks – cases in which boats are reported missing but where there are no records of survivors.

The report says fates of more than 300 more people aboard those vessels remain unclear.

“The troubling situation in the Central Mediterranean reinforces the need for dedicated, predictable State-led search and rescue and disembarkation that puts an end to the ad hoc response that has characterized operations since the end of Operation Mare Nostrum in 2014,” the report said.

“State efforts to save lives must include supporting the efforts of NGO actors to provide lifesaving assistance, and ending the criminalisation, obstruction and deterrence of the efforts of those who provide such assistance. All maritime vessels, including commercial ships, have a legal obligation to provide rescue to boats in distress,” it said.

The IOM has also called for further action to dismantle criminal smuggling networks and to prosecute people profiting from the desperation of migrants and refugees by facilitating dangerous journeys.

Missing Migrants Project is a flagship initiative of the Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC) within IOM’s Global Data Institute in Berlin.

Read more here: Mediterranean | Missing Migrants Project (