WORLD

Six people died each day attempting to cross Mediterranean in 2018

Refugees and migrants attempting to reach Europe via the Mediterranean Sea lost their lives at an alarming rate with six people died each day attempting to cross the sea, according to a U.N. report

The Mediterranean Sea continues to be a deadly route as six people died every day while attempting to reach European shores in 2018. In its latest report titled "Desperate Journeys," the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said on Wednesday, "An estimated 2,275 people died or went missing crossing the Mediterranean in 2018, despite a major drop in the number of arrivals reaching European shores."

The death rate among migrants crossing the sea from Libya to Italy or Malta more than doubled last year as naval search and rescue missions was reduced. Since June, when Italy's populist government took office and started turning away NGO rescue ships, migrants saved at sea have repeatedly been trapped in intra-EU rows about where they should be allowed to land. "Saving lives at sea is not a choice, nor a matter of politics, but an age-old obligation," U.N. refugee chief Filippo Grandi said in a statement. "We can put an end to these tragedies by having the courage and vision to look beyond the next boat, and adopt a long-term approach based on regional cooperation, that places human life and dignity at its core."

The journey by land through the Sahara and then across the Mediterranean remains the world's deadliest migration route and as polarizing as ever in European politics. Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who is also the head of the far-right League party and a prominent member of the new Italian government, is leading a high-profile campaign to exclude humanitarian rescue ships from Italian ports. He also argues that European countries should find a way to block the migrants before they leave Africa or send boats with asylum seekers back to the ports they came from, including Libya's harbors.

Besides Italy, governments in Austria and central Europe argue that the EU can only bring migration under control by closing its borders to new arrivals, while opposing efforts to redistribute asylum seekers within the bloc. As the EU has yet to find common ground or a policy for saving the lives of migrants at sea, rights groups accused EU member states for the increase in the Mediterranean migrant death toll. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 83 people have died so far this year trying to cross the Mediterranean.

The report also pointed out significant changes in the routes being used by refugees and migrants. For the first time in recent years, Spain became the primary entry point to Europe as around 8,000 arrived by land through the enclaves in Ceuta and Melilla and a further 54,800 people successfully crossed over the perilous western Mediterranean.

The migrants who arrived in Europe were mostly from Syria, Tunisia, Eritrea, Pakistan, Iraq, Congo, Afghanistan, Morocco and Mali. The number of migrants reaching the EU has in fact dropped sharply since the height of the crisis in 2015 when more than a million arrived from the Middle East and Africa, mostly by sea from Turkey to Greece and then overland across the Balkans. That route was largely shut down by a 2016 agreement between the EU and Turkey. The other main route, the frequently deadly crossing from North Africa to Italy, remains open, but numbers have declined substantially in the past year as fighting between Libyan armed factions has cut down on people smuggling. Still the issue remains sharply divisive across Europe.

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