Despite the total number of refugees making their way to Europe from the shores of North Africa has declined, these asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean now face an even deadlier journey then they have in the past. The UN refugee agency has warned in a report that for every 18 asylum seekers that landed on Europe’s shore, one has died while trying to cross the Mediterranean in the first seven months of 2018.
In its report, the humanitarian agency notes that due to increased preventive measures being taken by authorities in Libya, human smugglers are resorting to increasingly riskier methods to send refugees across the Mediterranean Sea. In the central Mediterranean, one person died or went missing for every 18 people who crossed to Europe between January and July 2018, compared to one death for every 42 people who crossed in the same period in 2017, the report said.
On the central Mediterranean route – from northern Africa to southern Europe, there have been 10 separate incidents in which 50 or more people died in 2018 - most after departing from Libya.
"The reason the traffic has become more deadly is that the traffickers are taking more risk, because there is more surveillance exercised by the Libyan coastguards," said Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR's special envoy for the central Mediterranean. "They are trying to cut the costs: it costs them more to keep those people here longer in their warehouses, under captivity," he added.
Libyan authorities intercepted or rescued 18,400 people between August last year and July this year - a 38-percent increase from the same period of 2016 and 2017. Arrivals by sea from Libya to Europe plummeted 82 percent in those comparable periods, to 30,800 in the more recent one.
However, the political uncertainty and violence in Libya is still pushing people to try and make the arduous journey across the Mediterranean.
"This report once again confirms the Mediterranean as one of the world's deadliest sea crossings," said UNHCR's director of the Bureau for Europe, Pascale Moreau.
"With the number of people arriving on European shores falling, this is no longer a test of whether Europe can manage the numbers, but whether Europe can muster the humanity to save lives," she added.