With The Latest Libyan Tragedy, Mediterranean Sea Death Toll Hits 20,014 Migrants


By Akanimo Sampson

More than 20,014 migrants have perished in the Mediterranean Sea since 2014.

The death toll was pushed up by a tragic shipwreck off the coast of Libya last month and more than a dozen other recent fatalities elsewhere.

Director of the International Organisation for Migration’s (IOM) Global Migration Data Analysis Centre, Frank Laczko, says “the disappearance and presumed drowning of at least 91 people reported missing aboard a dingy north of Garabulli, Libya, on February 9 is the latest in a series of so-called ‘ghost boats’ that have vanished en-route to Europe, claiming hundreds of lives.

“Two-thirds of the fatalities we have recorded are people lost at sea without a trace. The fact that we have reached this grim new milestone reinforces IOM’s position that there is an urgent need for increased, comprehensive SAR capacity in the Mediterranean.”

Ghost boats, also called ‘invisible shipwrecks’, are usually reported by NGOs such as Alarm Phone and Caminando Fronteras, which receive calls from migrants in distress at sea, and family members searching for lost loved ones.

In dozens of similar cases recorded by IOM, no search and rescue operations are ever carried out, and those on board are presumed to be lost at sea.

“If you come from a high-income country, efforts will be made to find and identify your body should you go missing. The same simply does not apply if you are a migrant in the Mediterranean,” said Laczko.

“With each passing year, more families find themselves living in limbo, not knowing whether a relative is dead or alive.”

In addition to the tragedy off the coast of Libya, the bodies of three young men washed up on a beach in Tunisia last week.

They are likely linked to a ship carrying 18 people that departed from Algeria on 14 February, the fate of which remains unclear.

Although the annual number of deaths has decreased every year since 2016 when more than 5,000 lost their lives crossing the Mediterranean, the proportion of deaths compared to attempted crossings rose in both the Central and Western Mediterranean in 2019 compared to previous years – a continuation of the increasing risk of death seen since 2017.

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With no end in sight to the tragedy unfolding on the Mediterranean, IOM reiterates that improved and expanded safe, legal pathways for migrants and refugees are urgently needed, both to reduce the incentive to choose irregular channels, and to help prevent the unnecessary and avoidable loss of lives.