According to a United Nations refugee agency study released on Friday, more than 3,000 refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers died or went missing last year while attempting to reach Europe via the Mediterranean and Atlantic water routes, the biggest toll in recent years.
Thousands of Africans make risky treks to Europe each year, typically crossing the Sahara desert and leaving north African coasts on small, inflatable boats in search of a better life or to flee suffering. Last year, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported 3,077 persons as dead or missing, over double the figure for 2020.
“We’re seeing increases rise,” UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo said at a press conference in Geneva. “It’s concerning.”
The UNHCR began publishing aggregated death tolls in 2019, and the number of people killed has increased year after year.
So far in 2022, 553 people have been reported dead or missing, with the majority of them dying on the Central Mediterranean route, like in previous years.
The tolls do not include individuals who died while traveling by land, like as through the harsh Sahara Desert, or in smuggler-run detention centers, where survivors have recounted sexual abuse, forced marriage, and forced labor.
Tunisia, Morocco, Mali, Guinea, Eritrea, Egypt, Ivory Coast, and Senegal were among the nations where the dead and missing were found, as were Iran, Syria, and Afghanistan, according to Mantoo.
“We have been demanding that humanitarian and development action be strengthened to address the factors that force people to migrate in the first place,” she continued.
She also expressed concern about pushbacks, following the release last year of a report by the United Nations Human Rights Office alleging that the European Union is partially to fault for deaths in the Mediterranean due to unanswered distress calls and obstruction of humanitarian rescue efforts.