UNHCR reports that over 3,000 people either died or went missing while trying to reach Europe via sea in 2021. The UN agency has asked for urgent measures to ward off an increase in people losing their lives on these journeys.
More than 3,000 people died or went missing in the central and western Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean while trying to reach Europe last year, the United Nations said in a report released on Friday, April 29.
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has called for urgent support to prevent deaths and protect refugees and asylum seekers that undertake dangerous journeys via land and sea.
It added in a statement that 1,924 people had been reported as dead or missing on the routes of the central and western Mediterranean, while another 1,153 had been on the sea route from northwestern Africa towards the Canary Islands.
A total of 1,544 had instead been reported dead in 2020 on the two routes. At least 478 people have been reported dead or missing at sea so far this year.
Risks for travel via land and sea
"Most of the sea crossings took place in packed, unseaworthy, inflatable boats, many of which capsized or were deflated leading to the loss of life," UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo told reporters in Geneva.
"The sea journey from West African coastal states such as Senegal and Mauritania to the Canary Islands is long and perilous and can take up to 10 days," Mantoo added.
"Many boats have gone off course or disappeared without a trace in these waters," she said.
UNHCR says land routes can also be very dangerous for migrants and estimates that even more people may have died crossing the Sahara Desert or when held in captivity and abused by traffickers or smugglers.
Extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, sexual and gender-based violence, and forced labour and marriage are just some of the abuses reported by people traveling these routes, the report stated.
COVID-related border closures impacted movements towards North Africa and European coastal countries, with many desperate refugees and migrants turning to smugglers, it added.
Call for alternatives to dangerous journeys
UNHCR asked for "support in providing meaningful alternatives to these dangerous journeys and prevent people from becoming victims of traffickers. The approach calls for increased humanitarian assistance, support and solutions for people in need of international protection and survivors of gross human rights abuses.
"It covers some 25 countries across four regions connected by the same land and sea routes used by migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, and includes countries of origin, departure, first asylum, transit and destination."
"States must ensure unimpeded humanitarian access for the delivery of essential services to people on the move or stranded en route, intercepted at sea, or held in detention centres, and to determine whether they have international protection needs," the UNHCR spokesperson said.
If these important measures are not carried out, refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced people and others will continue to move onwards in dangerous journeys in search of safety and protection.Other people, including migrants, will move in search of a better life, hoping to find work or educational opportunities elsewhere in the absence of sufficient seasonal or longer-term legal pathways for safe and orderly migration, she said.