More than 2,500 refugees dead, missing crossing Mediterranean in 2023

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More than 2,500 refugees dead, missing crossing Mediterranean in 2023

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)

Asylum-seekers in a dingy boat headed for Italy are intercepted by authorities off the coast of Sfax, a Tunisian port city, October 4, 2022. (File photo by AFP)

More than 2,500 people have died or gone missing this year making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea from Africa to Europe in 2023, according to the UN refugee agency.

“By September 24, over 2,500 people were accounted as dead or missing in 2023 alone,” Ruven Menikdiwela, director of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told the UN Security Council on Thursday, showing a sharp surge in the number of suspected casualties compared to 2022.

Menikdiwela added that out of the 186,000 asylum seekers who successfully crossed the Mediterranean Sea so far this year, 83 percent landed in Italy while the rest landed in Greece, Spain, Cyprus, and Malta, as well as other European countries.

She said the two North African countries of Tunisia and Libya were the main points of departure along the sea routes chosen by those seeking asylum in Europe.

Menikdiwela warned that the equally perilous land routes to Europe were also extremely dangerous and the UNHCR sees “no end in sight” to the lives lost not only at sea, but also on land.

“Lives are also lost on land, away from public attention,” Menikdiwela warned.

She said the asylum seekers “risk death and gross human rights violations at every step” of their journey – usually from conflict zones – in pursuit of a safe and secure life in Europe.

In Libya, where there are nearly 50,000 refugees and asylum seekers registered with the UNHCR, “the conditions of thousands of refugees and migrants in both official and unofficial detention facilities… remains of grave concern,” Menikdiwela said.

She said more than 45,000 had tried to cross the Mediterranean from Libya and 102,000 people attempted to cross from Tunisia, a 260-percent increase compared to last year.

The UNHCR figures were similar to those presented by Par Liljert, director of the International Office for Migration (IOM).

“Recent IOM data demonstrates that from January to September 2023, more than 187,000 individuals crossed the Mediterranean in pursuit of a better future and the promise of safety,” Liljert told the Security Council.

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