Apr 29, 2022 - World

UN: Over 3,000 died or went missing trying to reach Europe by sea last year

Migrants in a wooden boat, which left the coast of Libya, are waiting to be rescued by members of the NGO Open Arms, March 5, 2022, off the coast of Libya, in the Mediterranean Sea.
Migrants in a wooden boat waiting to be rescued by members of the NGO Open Arms in March off the coast of Libya. Photo: Antonio Sempere/Europa Press via Getty Images

More than 3,000 people died or went missing trying to reach Europe via Mediterranean or Atlantic sea routes last year, the UN refugee agency said in a report Friday.

The big picture: The figure is nearly double the number from the previous year, when 1,776 asylum seekers, refugees and others were reported dead or missing while trying to cross central and western Mediterranean routes or the northwest African maritime route to the Canary Islands, the agency added.

  • Since the beginning of this year, more than 475 people have died or gone missing at sea.

What they're saying: "We are seeing the increases soar," UNHCR's Shabia Mantoo said at a press conference in Geneva Friday. "It's alarming."

  • "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," Mantoo added.

Driving the news: Pandemic-related border restrictions continued to result in many "desperate refugees and migrants turning to smugglers to facilitate these perilous journeys," UNHCR said.

  • The agency warned that "continued political instability and conflicts, deteriorating socioeconomic conditions as well as the impact of climate change may increase displacement and dangerous onward movement."

State of play: UNHCR called on European and African countries "to help provide meaningful alternatives to these dangerous journeys and prevent people from becoming victims of traffickers."

  • It also launched an appeal for $163.5 million to assist and protect thousands of refugees and others.

Some European countries are facing growing criticism for their policies toward migrants and refugees from the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

  • UNHCR and other human rights groups have slammed a U.K. plan to send some asylum-seekers to Rwanda for processing and settlement.
  • "People fleeing war, conflict and persecution deserve compassion and empathy. They should not be traded like commodities and transferred abroad for processing," the agency said earlier this month.
  • Fabrice Leggeri, the head of the European Union's border agency, Frontex, resigned Friday after accusations that Frontex mistreated migrants and asylum-seekers, including being involved in illegal pushbacks — the forcing of refugees away from a border before they can claim asylum.

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