“Italy: More than 450 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean disembark in Sicily signaling a sharp rise in sea arrivals in 2021 so far - UNHCR”
Following the latest rescue operations of migrants to Italy by Charity Ships in the Central Mediterranean, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) warned today of mounting refugee and migrant deaths in the Central Mediterranean with a 170 per cent increase of sea arrivals in Italy in 2021 compared to the same period in 2020.
Speaking from the port of Trapani in Sicily, UNHCR’s spokesperson for Italy, Carlotta Sami, told journalists at a briefing at the United Nations in Geneva that “over 450 persons, among them 190 minors, are disembarking following rescue and six different operations by the NGO vessel ‘Sea Watch’.
She added that “since the very early hour of Saturday 1st of May, some 1,500 persons have disembarked in Italy following rescue by the Italian Coast Guard and Custom police or by international NGOs in the Central Mediterranean.”
The majority of arrivals departed from Libya onboard in flimsy, unseaworthy vessels.
UNHCR has witnessed a great number of children among the migrants - many of them are unaccompanied.
The majority of migrants originate from Mali, and the Sahel/West Africa, Eritrea and North Africa. Many are fleeing from war and conflicts, like in the Sahel, where indiscriminate attacks constantly lead to death and forced displacement, or they are fleeing persecution and being trafficked.
However, according to UNHCR’s global statistics, movements to Europe represent only a small part of the global refugees’ situation. Eighty per cent of people who flee stay within their region of origin.
“5.5 millions of refugees and IDPs are in the Sahel Countries so what we see here, in Italy, is just the tip of the iceberg”, said Carlotta Sami. “The latest disembarkation in any case brings the number of sea arrivals to Italy in 2021 to 10,400. This is more than a 170 per cent increase compared to 2020.”
UNHCR gathered testimonies during the past few days, including from children, who speak of imprisonment and brutalities inflicted with no respect for human life, while survivors often show severe mental health problems as a result of the traumas they have faced.
UNHCR commends Italy for keeping its ports open during the pandemic but appeals to other European countries to step up its efforts to strengthen the protection of persons travelling along this route and to provide safe alternatives to these dangerous and desperate journeys.
“Solidarity from the other EU members is urgently needed”, said UNHCR’s Carlotta Sami. “UNHCR is deeply concerned about the death toll. So far in 2021, at least 500 persons are known to have lost life trying to make the sea crossing in the Central Med.”
She added that “in 2020, there were 150 in this period of the year, so we have an increase of 200 per cent. Of course, the tragic loss of lives underscores once again the need to re-establish a system coordinated by States for search and rescue operations in the Central Mediterranean.”
For UNHCR, this tragic loss of life underscores once again the need to reestablish a system for search and rescue operations in the Central Mediterranean coordinated by States. The deteriorating situation in Libya will continue to force people to resort to desperate measures to seek safety.
Legal pathways such as humanitarian corridors, evacuations, resettlement and family reunification must be expanded.