The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today reported that more than 1,500 people drowned or went missing while attempting to cross the sea from Africa to reach Europe in 2011.
UNHCR states that the Mediterranean Sea has become the deadliest stretch of water in the world for migrants and refugees.
The UNHCR says 2011 is the deadliest year for the region since UNHCR began recording the statistics in 2006.
More than 200 migrants were reported to have drowned on their way to Italy in April 2011. Media reports indicate that 213 people, including many Somalis, Eritreans and Ivorians, died after the boat in which they were travelling experienced difficulties in rough seas near the Italian island of Lampedusa. The boat was from Libya.
“Our teams in Greece, Italy, Libya, and Malta, warn that the actual number of deaths at sea may be even higher.” – UNHCR spokesperson Sybella Wilkes
Ms. Wilkes reports that the UNHCR estimates were based on interviews with migrants who reached Europe by boat, telephone and e-mail communication from their relatives, as well as reports from Libya and Tunisia from survivors whose boats either sank or were in distress.
Since pro-democracy protests erupted across North Africa and the Middle East earlier this year, large numbers of people – including people fleeing unrest in Tunisia and Libya – have taken to boats to try to reach Europe.
Those who survived the dangerous journey described armed guards forcing them to climb aboard unsafe boats, and abuse and torture at sea by other passengers.
“We renew our call to all shipmasters in the Mediterranean, one of the busiest stretches of water in the world, to remain vigilant and to carry out there duty of rescuing vessels in distress.” -Ms. Wilkes
Of last year’s arrivals by sea, 56,000 landed in Italy while Malta and Greece received 1,574 and 1,000 respectively. According to the Greek Government, an estimated 55,000 irregular migrants crossed the Greek-Turkish land border.
The Mediterranean Sea is connected to the Atlantic Ocean surrounded by the Mediterranean region and almost completely enclosed by land. On the north, it is enclosed by Europe and Asian Turkey, on the south by North Africa, and on the east by the Levant. The sea is sometimes considered a part of the Atlantic Ocean, although it is often identified as a completely separate body of water.