The body of a migrant after a rubber boat capsized off the coast of Libya | Photo: EPA/Flavio Gasperini/SOS MEDITERRANEE
The body of a migrant after a rubber boat capsized off the coast of Libya | Photo: EPA/Flavio Gasperini/SOS MEDITERRANEE

In the first six months of 2021, the number of migrants who died at sea in an attempt to reach Europe more than doubled compared to the same period in 2020, according to UN migration agency IOM. Most migrants died on the central Mediterranean route or en route to Spain's Canaries.

At least 1,146 people died attempting to cross the ocean to Europe between January and June of 2021. Compared to the same period in the previous year -- between January and June 2020 -- deaths more than doubled, with 513 migrants known to have drowned. That's according to a briefing released by UN migration agency IOM on Wednesday (June 14).

Among the 1,146 migrants who died were at least 409 men, 104 women and 50 children -- for the remaining 583 people, IOM did not have information on their sex or age.

Most migrant deaths in central Mediterranean

What sea route to Europe was the deadliest in the first half of this year?

According to IOM, at least 250 migrants lost their lives in an attempt to reach the Canaries, a group of Spanish islands located off the coast of northwestern Africa in the Atlantic Ocean.

At least 896 people died attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea -- the body of water that borders on most of southern Europe, spanning from eastern Spain and Morocco to Middle Eastern countries like Turkey, Libya and Syria.

While the number of migrants attempting to reach Europe only increased by 58% in the first half of 2021 compared to the same period in 2020 (75,562 versus 47,865), the number of deaths increased by 130% (896 versus 389).

Most migrant deaths in the Mediterranean in the first half of this year occured on the central route: At least 741 people died attempting to cross from Libya and Tunisia to Italy or Malta.

At least 149 people died on the western Mediterranean route, between Algeria and Morocco, and Spain. At least six migrants died in the eastern Mediterranean, trying to reach Greece from Turkey.

Actual number of deaths likely much higher

IOM said that the actual number of migrant deaths is likely much higher than the number of deaths they were able to verify.

"Hundreds of cases of invisible shipwrecks have been reported by NGOs in direct contact with those on board or with their families," the UN agency said.

"Such cases, which are extremely difficult to verify, indicate that deaths on maritime routes to Europe are far higher than available data show." This is particularly the case for the route to the Canaries, "given the repeated reports from civil society organizations of boats going missing on this route," IOM said.

IOM Director General António Vitorin called on states to "take urgent and proactive steps to reduce loss of life on maritime migration routes to Europe and uphold their obligations under international law."

He said that state-run search-and-rescue efforts should be increased and that "access to safe and legal migration pathways" should be ensured.

 

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