1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

UN reports rise in Mediterranean migrant crossing deaths

April 12, 2023

More people are trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to seek a better life, but many do not make it. The UN has slammed policies by some states that seek to make the crossing harder.

An August 2022 picture showing migrants with life jackets provided by volunteers of the Ocean Viking rescue ship sitting on a wooden boat in the Mediterranean Sea
The Mediterranean Sea crossing is one of the deadliest in the worldImage: Jeremias Gonzales/AP Photo/picture alliance

The number of people who died while crossing the Mediterranean Sea to seek refuge in Europe has reached a level not seen since 2017, according to a report published by the United Nations on Wednesday.

The UN's International Organization for Migration (IOM) counted 441 deaths in the first three months of 2023, but warned that the real number was likely much higher.

"The persisting humanitarian crisis in the central Mediterranean is intolerable," said IOM chief Antonio Vitorino.

"With more than 20,000 deaths recorded on this route since 2014, I fear that these deaths have been normalized. States must respond," he added.

What's behind the increase in Med deaths?

The IOM pointed the finger at the states around the Mediterranean — without naming any in particular — saying that the delayed launching of state-led search and rescue (SAR) operations were responsible for numerous deaths.

The report gave six example incidents where SAR delays led to the deaths of at least 127 people.

"The complete absence of response to a seventh case claimed the lives of at least 73 migrants," it added.

Italy: Death toll in migrant shipwreck keeps rising

The IOM also pointed to the decrease in activities by nongovernmental organizations but blasted the policies introduced by some countries to hamper humanitarian efforts.

Italy has frequently impounded humanitarian boats for varying reasons, and the new far-right government now requires those carrying rescued people to disembark further away from their areas of operations.

"State efforts to save lives must include supporting the efforts of NGO actors to provide lifesaving assistance and ending the criminalization, obstruction of those efforts," the IOM said.

More people migrating this year

The number of crossings was also up in general, with some 32,000 people landing in Italy since the start of 2023, according to figures from the Italian Interior Ministry. During the same period last year, the number was 8,000.

The largest share of people taking the Mediterranean route to cross into Europe this year was people from Ivory Coast, Guinea and Pakistan.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and her far-right coalition government declared a six-month state of emergency on Tuesday over mass immigration, which the coalition parties have pledged to end.

Italy’s state of emergency – a pretext to deport migrants?

Many of those who reach Italy see their applications rejected as they are fleeing poverty rather than war or persecution.

Others hope to pass through Italy to meet up with family members in other European countries but, according to EU rules, they are required to make their asylum claims in the first country they arrive in.

ab/nm (AP, AFP)