Crisis At Sea: The Mounting Toll Of Migrant Shipwrecks In The Central Mediterranean

On December 17th, 61 migrants are presumed to have died after a boat sank near Libya’s waters. The vessel departed from Zuwara the night between December 13 and 14. According to the International Organisation of Migration (IOM), there were 86 people onboard. Among the victims there were also children and women, mainly from Nigeria and Gambia.

Flavio Di Giacomo, spokesperson for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), voiced deep concern regarding the 2250 casualties reported in 2023 along the central Mediterranean migration route. These alarming figures underscore the pressing need for increased intervention. Di Giacomo said to The Guardian, “While it is unequivocally a criminal act for human traffickers to dispatch a boat laden with people into turbulent seas at this time of the year, it is equally imperative for European authorities to intensify monitoring efforts in the Mediterranean, particularly during this period.” He added that they have been arguing for years that this route requires an adequate monitoring system to avoid tragedies of this scale.

The rate of migrants losing their lives at sea while crossing the central Mediterranean in 2023 has increased by over 60% compared to 2022. Last June a fishing boat with hundreds of migrants departing from Libya sank, resulting in 78 deaths and over 500 missing, the IOM reported. As per the latest information released by the IOM, the number of migrants reaching the shores of Italy in 2023 has reached 140,000, nearly twice the figure from the previous year. Notably, 91% of these arrivals originate from Tunisia.

Giorgia Meloni’s right-wing government in Italy adopted strict policies to crackdown on immigration. However, they do not seem to be having the desired effect. As the data demonstrates, in 2023 the number of migrants has decreased, but the crisis has become much more severe and the number of deaths at sea has risen considerably. In September, the Italian prime minister expressed a willingness to increase repatriation efforts. Yet these measures have not been very successful in the past, as only 20% of migrants issued with a repatriation order actually left the country.

Last November, Meloni unveiled plans to establish centres in Albania to house asylum seekers. The initiative involved the creation of Albanian centres with the capacity to accommodate 3000 individuals rescued at sea by Italian vessels. However, last Wednesday, Albania’s constitutional court suspended the ratification of this agreement, citing concerns that it may contravene both the constitution and international conventions to which Albania is a party. Regional Researcher at Amnesty International, Elisa De Pieri, had already criticised the deal between Italy and Albania by stating that “People rescued at sea by Italian authorities, including those seeking safety in Europe, are under Italian jurisdiction and cannot be taken to another country before their asylum request and individual circumstances have been examined.”

Non-refoulement stands as a fundamental principle in international refugee law, constituting a binding element in customary international law applicable to all states. Additionally, this principle is explicitly embedded in EU law through Article 78(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and Articles 18 and 19 of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights.

2023 has, unfortunately, witnessed an alarming surge in the incidence of tragic shipwrecks, underscoring the pressing need for immediate action. In response to this distressing trend, the Organisation for World Peace aligns its message with that of Save the Children, collectively urging the European Union and its member states to assume responsibility and undertake concrete measures to avoid further loss of life among migrants at sea. It is crucial that governments broaden search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean, reflecting a shared commitment to prioritise and safeguard the well-being of those undertaking perilous journeys in pursuit of safety and refuge.