More than 3,000 people died at sea trying to reach Europe last year, UN says

More than 3,000 people died at sea trying to reach Europe last year, UN says
The number of deaths on sea routes to Europe has doubled in a single year.
2 min read
01 May, 2022
The Mediterranean is becoming increasingly deadly for migrants. [Antonio Sempere/Europa Press via Getty]

More than 3,000 people died at sea while attempting to reach Europe in 2021, the UN refugee agency UNHCR said in a report on Friday. The number of deaths, 3,077, has doubled compared to 2020.

The majority perished in the Mediterranean, but over 1,000 people drowned in the Atlantic on their way to the Canary Islands, a Spanish territory off the coast of Morocco.

“Most of the sea crossings took place in packed, unseaworthy, inflatable boats – many of which capsized or were deflated leading to the loss of life,” UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo noted at a press conference in Geneva.

Mounting fatalities on migratory sea routes are caused by the dangers of sea crossings, but also to the deadly effect of Europe's increasingly repressive policies towards migrants, refugees and organisations attempting to assist them.

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“Continued political instability and conflicts, deteriorating socioeconomic conditions as well as the impact of climate change may increase displacement and dangerous onward movements,” Ms. Mantoo warned. The Covid-19 pandemic likely also played a role in this year's high death toll, as desperate refugees and migrants turned to smugglers to circumvent Covid-related border closures.

The central Mediterranean is the world's deadliest migration route. More than 17,000 deaths and disappearances have been recorded since 2014 by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

But many migrants disappear long before they reach the shores of the Mediterranean, as they journey through the dry Sahara desert and in remote border areas where they face the threat of kidnapping, sexual violence, extortion and more. Some are detained for months or years in squalid detention centres where torture is frequent, and death common.

 UNHCR called on states in Africa and Europe to improve their legal systems and their border operations, and to "ensure unimpeded humanitarian access" to people on migratory routes.