‘A cemetery for children and their future’: number of refugees thought dead in Mediterranean triples

Refugees rescued in the Mediterranean by Sea Watch
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The number of Europe-bound refugees who died or went missing in the Mediterranean this summer has tripled since last year, the UN has said.

Thousands of refugees died in 2023

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 2500 migrants died or went missing in the Mediterranean between 1 January and 24 September 2023. That’s 50% more than during the same period in 2022.

Between June and August this year, at least 990 people perished or vanished trying to get to Europe from northern Africa. Meanwhile, during the same period last year, 334 people died.

Among the migrants who arrived in Italy on makeshift boats between January and September, there were 11,600 unaccompanied children. That figure is 60% higher than it was for January to September 2022. Nicola dell’Arciprete, UNICEF’s country coordinator for Italy, said at least 289 children have died so far this year trying to cross the Mediterranean.

Regina De Dominicis, UNICEF’s regional director for Europe and Central Asia, said:

The Mediterranean has become a cemetery for children and their future

‘So-called’ coastguard

There was a surge of people landing on the island of Lampedusa in September. The Red Cross estimated that the island hosted some 10,000 new arrivals in the second week of September. Dell’Arciprete said this number of people will likely be repeated over the coming weeks. As more people cross, more will likely find themselves in dangerous or deadly situations.

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At the time of publishing, Sea Watch International was reporting an ongoing incident involving the Libyan coastguard:

The MV Louise Michel, an independent refugee rescue vessel that was on-site during the incident, said two “overcrowded” dinghies had got into trouble. While the Louise Michel was rescuing 58 people from one boat, a Libyan coastguard vessel allegedly “crashed” into the second:

The boat’s crew said that it was “disgusted by this aggressive act against these people seeking a safe place”.

In June, a fishing vessel carrying an estimated 750 refugees, including 100 children, sank off the coast of Greece. Only 104 people were rescued.

While the Greek coastguard initially attempted to distance itself from the causes of the boat’s sinking, subsequent investigations have suggested otherwise. Research published by Greek investigative journalism unit Solomon said that:

…the [Greek coastguard vessel] increased its speed and the fishing vessel [that it was towing] rocked to the right, then to the left, then to the right again and flipped onto its right side…

Testimonies in this investigation support testaments presented by other journalistic investigations, as well as survivor statements included in the official case file: this action appears to have led to the capsize and eventual sinking of the ship.

Political choices and individual actions

Commenting on the UN’s figures for 2023, De Dominicis said:

The tragic toll of children dying in search of asylum and security in Europe is the result of political choices and a defective migration system

This European anti-refugee border regime is colloquially known as ‘Fortress Europe’. Its policies extend well beyond the Mediterranean. As the Canary previously reported, Fortress Europe has led to the deaths of thousands of people attempting to cross between two islands in the Indian Ocean.

However, the two incidents involving the Libyan and Greek coastguards show that it’s not just policies harming and killing refugees. Individuals are acting in ways that threaten refugees as well.

There are three months left in 2023, and the number of refugees killed by Europe’s racist, draconian border policies will only continue to increase. Each and every death is blood on the hands of states across Europe and the Mediterranean.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

Featured image by Tim LĂĽddemann/Flickr

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