Cross Mediterranean arrivals to Europe have declined since 2015, but the latest sea arrivals to Italy bring the numbers in 2021 to more than 10,400, a spike of more than 170% compared to the same period last year, the UN said Tuesday.
UN Refugee Agency spokeswoman Carlotta Sami addressed a UN press briefing via video link from the Port of Trapani in Sicily where some 450 people were disembarking following their rescue by the NGO vessel Sea Watch.
“UNHCR commends Italy for keeping its ports open during the pandemic. Solidarity from other EU member states, however, is urgently needed,” said Sami.
She noted that the situation in the region will continue to force people to resort to desperate measures to seek safety.
“I’m calling from the Port of Trapani in Sicily. As I speak, over 450 persons are disembarking following rescue by the NGO vessel Sea Watch, among them around 180 are children,” said Sami.
Since the early hours of May 1, some 1,500 persons have disembarked in Italy following rescue by the Italian Coast Guard and custom police or by international NGOs in the Central Mediterranean.
“UNHCR is also deeply concerned about the death toll: so far in 2021, at least 500 persons are known to have lost their lives trying to make the dangerous sea crossing along the Central Mediterranean route, compared to 150 in the same period in 2020,” said Sami.
200% more lives lost
“That is an increase of more than 200%. This tragic loss of life underscores once again the need to re-establish a system for search and rescue operations in the Central Mediterranean coordinated by states,” she added.
Most of the arrivals departed from Libya onboard flimsy, unseaworthy vessels and made repeated distress calls, said UNHCR.
“We have noticed a high presence of children, many of whom are unaccompanied.
“The majority of arrivals originate from Mali and the Sahel/West Africa, Eritrea and North Africa. The reasons behind these movements are complex,” said Sami.
“Many are fleeing from war and conflicts, like in the Sahel where indiscriminate attacks constantly lead to death and forced displacement. Many are fleeing persecution and being trafficked and sold like commodities.”
She said that, however, movements toward Europe represent only the “tip of the iceberg.”
The majority remain close to home, with over 5.4 million refugees and internally displaced people in the Sahel countries that straddle northern parts of Africa.
According to UNHCR’s global statistics, 80% of people who flee stay within their region of origin.
“As these people are brought to safety in Italy, we urge the international community to step up its efforts to strengthen the protection of persons traveling along this route and to provide safe alternatives to these dangerous and desperate journeys,” said Sami.