Geneva - An over 14% increase in the number of drowned migrants and asylum seekers this year as compared to last year necessitates the immediate activation of official rescue missions by EU countries to reduce the high and ongoing loss of lives, Euro-Med Monitor said in a statement.

Euro-Med Monitor documented a concerning increase in the number of drowned migrants and asylum seekers in the Mediterranean Sea in 2022. Since the beginning of this year until the end of October, there have been approximately 1,820 deaths and missing persons in the area due to more than 235 drowning incidents; the same period last year saw the death and loss of about 1,585 migrants and asylum seekers.

The capsizing of boats carrying migrant and asylum seekers occurs almost daily. Six individuals are dead or missing after their boat capsized on Tuesday off the coast of Cape Angela in Bizerte Governorate, northern Tunisia; authorities announced the rescue of 10 others who were also on the boat.

   EU countries must stop treating migrants and asylum seekers as mere objects that do not have the right to be rescued   

Victoria Ceretti, a researcher at Euro-Med Monitor

“EU countries must stop treating migrants and asylum seekers as mere objects that do not have the right to be rescued”, said Victoria Ceretti, a researcher at Euro-Med Monitor. “We do not need more proof that rapid responses reduce drowning incidents, but we do need clear answers from officials about whether they would rather let people drown at sea than take them in”.

From January through October of this year, the number of sea arrivals in Europe exceeded 122,500 migrants and asylum seekers—an increase of more than 30% over the same period last year, when the number reached around 93,000. The rise is primarily due to deteriorating living conditions in countries of origin; declining economic conditions and a lack of political stability has led to an increase in poverty and unemployment rates, as well as a decrease in development opportunities.

Arrivals from Tunisia and Egypt accounted for 36% of all migrants and asylum seekers arriving in Europe between January and early October 2022. Tunisia ranked first in terms of arrivals, with over 30,000 people, followed by Egypt with about 25,000 people, Bangladesh with about 19,000 people, Syria with about 11,000 people, and Afghanistan with about 9,500 people.

Activating official search and rescue missions is not only helpful in terms of dealing with drowning incidents more quickly and effectively, but also helps avoid future incidents of this kind. In several cases, it has been documented that migrant boats capsized long after they sent out distress signals which relevant authorities were slow to respond to.

In other cases, migrants and asylum seekers died in the Mediterranean Sea from starvation, thirst, and/or severe burns rather than drowning. In September 2022 for instance, six migrants and asylum seekers, including two children, died after running out of food, water, and fuel on the boat they were using to reach Italy, while 26 others were found in critical condition; the passengers did not receive assistance for a long time.

The European Union and Member States, particularly Italy, Greece, Cyprus, and Malta, must activate official rescue missions, conduct maritime patrols along known migration routes permanently to ensure a rapid response to drowning incidents, and respond immediately to distress signals from stranded boats in the Mediterranean Sea.

Countries of origin should tighten their procedures for combating human smuggling gangs, make all efforts to prevent migrants and asylum seekers from being exploited and endangering themselves to survive, and work with countries of destination to develop safe and legal migration and asylum routes and programmes.