The Mediterranean, a holiday destination for sun seekers from across the world, is the “world’s deadliest sea” due to the high number of immigrants who perish trying to cross from Africa to Europe, according to the United Nations.
The surge in numbers crowding onto what are often little more than small fishing boats has coincided with a rise in anti-immigration sentiment in countries which have been the destination for migrants and asylum seekers, even if they are not the first ‘safe’ country these people arrive at.
The UN says that the previous peak in numbers was during the Libyan civil war in 2011 where an estimated 70,000 made the journey to Europe – often a south lying island such as Malta or Lampedusa.
But now the number has roughly tripled, with Syrians and Eritreans making up half the total. More than 207,000 people crossed from the Middle East and Africa since the beginning of 2014, they say, with 3,419 dying.
Critics say that the UN itself must take responsibility for the increased traffic heading towards the wealthier continent, with some even saying their policies are an ‘incitement to unsafe migration’.
The UN’s Human Right’s chief Antonio Guterres has dismissed the concerns of these destination countries, saying they are ‘mean spirited’.
One Syrian asylum seeker, Rasha Almasri, described her experience: “We stayed at sea for a week, really suffering, seven black days in the middle of the sea. Each day the smugglers told us we would leave tomorrow. They kept bringing more migrants out to the boat, filling it and filling it. Eventually, the engine failed and we were stuck. Then an Egyptian warship caught us and brought us here.”
Sebratha in Libya is a major starting point for migrants attempting to reach Italy. Amer Bashier, an official on the front line, said: “We get illegal immigration with asylum seekers coming from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, also a lot of Syrians now, as a lot more of them are trying to reach Europe.”
The country finds its own borders difficult to monitor, since the country is still riven with infighting and much of the frontier is in the desert.
The UNHCR says at least 384,000 people have taken to the seas this year. Almost 4,300 died trying to reach safety — eight out of ten of them crossing the Mediterranean.