The number of migrants who tried to cross the Mediterranean to Europe increased significantly in 2023, according to the United Nations (UN), automatically leading to an increase in the number of people who died or went missing during these perilous attempts.

“As of September 24, more than 2,500 people have been recorded as dead or missing” since the start of the year, an increase of almost 50% compared to “the 1,680 people during the same period” in 2022, said Ruven Menikdiwela, director of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), on Thursday (September 28). “Lives are also being lost on land, away from public attention,” she insisted at a New York meeting of the Security Council devoted to the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean.

“The journey from West Africa or East Africa and the Horn of Africa to Libya and departure points on the coast remains one of the most dangerous in the world,” a- she indicated. “Refugees and migrants traveling overland routes from sub-Saharan Africa risk death and serious human rights violations at every step.”

Call for a “regional landing and distribution mechanism”

According to its figures, between January 1 and September 24, 2023, a total of 186,000 migrants arrived in southern Europe (Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Malta), including 130,000 in Italy, “an increase of 83 % compared to the same period of 2022”.

As for the countries of departure, between January and August 2023, more than 102,000 migrants attempted to cross the Mediterranean from Tunisia, and 45,000 from Libya. Of this number, 31,000 were rescued at sea or intercepted and disembarked in Tunisia, and 10,600 in Libya, she added.

Referring to the recent massive arrivals on the Italian island of Lampedusa, she also stressed that Italy “could not respond alone to the needs” of these migrants. Before repeating the UNHCR’s call for “the establishment of a regional disembarkation and redistribution mechanism” of people arriving by sea. A controversial issue among the member states of the European Union (EU).

Russia gets involved

The Russian ambassador to the UN, Vassili Nebenzia, who had requested this Council meeting, also blamed the EU, denouncing its responsibility in the “death trap” that the Mediterranean represents. “We have the impression that the European Union is waging an undeclared war against migrants who are dying because they have no other, safer route,” he said. “The EU only deals with the migration issue when it comes to Ukrainians,” he added, lamenting that other migrants do not enjoy “the same level of solidarity”.

Russia “as always is absent when it comes to concretely responding to humanitarian crises,” replied French Ambassador Nicolas de Rivière, referring to Russian contributions to the UNHCR budget. “The presence of [Russian paramilitary group] Wagner in the Sahel contributes to instability in the region, which fuels terrorism and leads to population displacement,” he added.