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Alarming Increase in Mediterranean Crossing Attempts: Over 2,500 Lives Lost or Missing

UNHCR Reports Escalating Migration Crisis in the Mediterranean

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) revealed a staggering toll of human lives lost or missing in the attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. From January to August this year, over 2,500 individuals tragically lost their lives or went missing during these perilous journeys. The agency also reported that a staggering 186,000 people have undertaken this dangerous passage thus far in 2023.

Tunisia and Libya emerged as primary departure points for those embarking on this treacherous journey. Notably, Tunisia witnessed a significant surge, with over 102,000 individuals attempting the sea crossing this year alone, marking a staggering 260 percent increase from the previous year. Meanwhile, Libya saw approximately 45,000 people attempting the perilous journey.

Of the 186,000 people crossing the Mediterranean, more than 80 percent landed in Italy, with the remainder arriving in Greece, Spain, Cyprus, and Malta.

Ruven Menikdiwela, the director of UNHCR, emphasized that the high departure rates from Tunisia stem from a “perception of insecurity among refugee communities, following incidents of racially motivated attacks and hate speech, as well as collective expulsions from Libya and Algeria.”

Earlier this year, Tunisian President Kais Saied made comments widely denounced as racist, linking people from sub-Saharan Africa in the country to criminality. Saied’s remarks ignited controversy and condemnation.

In Libya, conditions for thousands of refugees and migrants in both official and unofficial detention facilities remain a grave concern, as highlighted by Menikdiwela. There are nearly 50,000 refugees and asylum seekers registered with the UNHCR in Libya.

Recent developments have seen the European Union release $135 million in migrant control assistance to Tunisia, a decision criticized by Human Rights Watch (HRW) for lacking specific human rights guarantees for migrants and asylum seekers. HRW also expressed concern that the EU’s decision could potentially make it complicit in abuses carried out by Tunisian authorities.

The plight of migrants, particularly those from Sub-Saharan countries, in Tunisia has reached unprecedented levels, with reports of grave violations against Black Africans involving security forces. These violations include beatings, excessive use of force, torture, arbitrary arrests and detentions, collective expulsions, perilous actions at sea, forced evictions, and theft of money and belongings. The situation underscores the urgent need for a comprehensive and rights-respecting approach to address the escalating migration crisis in the Mediterranean.

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