The Mediterranean Sea has so far claimed the lives of at least 19,164 migrants since 2014, according to a report by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the migration agency of the United Nations.
The sea is however, connected to the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by the Mediterranean Basin and almost completely enclosed by land: on the north by Southern Europe and Anatolia, on the south by North Africa and on the east by the Levant. Although the sea is sometimes considered a part of the Atlantic Ocean, it is usually referred to as a separate body of water.
According to Wikipedia, geological evidence indicates that around 5.9 million years ago, the Mediterranean was cut off from the Atlantic and was partly or completely desiccated over a period of some 600,000 years (the Messinian salinity crisis) before being refilled by the Zanclean flood about 5.3 million years ago.
Continuing, the free encyclopedia says the sea covers an area of about 2.5 million square kilometres (0.97×106 sq mi), representing 0.7% of the global ocean surface, but its connection to the Atlantic via the Strait of Gibraltar—the narrow strait that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea and separates Spain in Europe from Morocco in Africa—is only 14 km (9 mi) wide. In oceanography, it is sometimes called the Eurafrican Mediterranean Sea or the European Mediterranean Sea to distinguish it from mediterranean seas elsewhere.
‘’The Mediterranean Sea has an average depth of 1,500 m (4,900 ft) and the deepest recorded point is 5,267 m (17,280 ft) in the Calypso Deep in the Ionian Sea. It lies between latitudes 30° and 46° N and longitudes 6° W and 36° E. Its west-east length, from the Strait of Gibraltar to the Gulf of Iskenderun, on the southwestern coast of Turkey, is about 4,000 kilometres (2,500 mi).
‘’The sea was an important route for merchants and travellers of ancient times, facilitating trade and cultural exchange between peoples of the region. The history of the Mediterranean region is crucial to understanding the origins and development of many modern societies.
‘’The countries surrounding the Mediterranean in clockwise order are Spain, France, Monaco, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco; Malta and Cyprus are island countries in the sea. In addition, the Gaza Strip and the British Overseas Territories of Gibraltar and Akrotiri and Dhekelia have coastlines on the sea’’, says Wikipedia.
However, deaths recorded on the three main Mediterranean Sea routes through 2019, according to IOM, are at 1,283 individuals—or about 44% of the 2,299 deaths confirmed during the same period in 2018.
Missing Migrants Project
2019 is the sixth year of IOM’s efforts to systematically record deaths on migration routes worldwide through its Missing Migrants Project. Since the beginning of 2014, the project has recorded the deaths of 34,532 people, including 3,368 in 2019.
On the other hand, the total number of 110,669 migrants and refugees who entered Europe by sea during the year is also slightly below the 116,273 men, women and children who crossed the Mediterranean in 2018, a decline of about five per cent.
The UN agency reported on Friday, marking the sixth straight year that at least 100,000 arrivals were recorded on three Mediterranean Sea Routes.
Global Migrant Deaths
Horn of Africa
* more incidents may be reported in coming days.
Since 2014, the Mediterranean’s central route between North Africa and Italy remains the region’s deadliest corridor. Missing Migrants researchers estimate one in 33 people died attempting to cross the Central Mediterranean in 2019, compared to one in 35 in 2018 and one in 51 in 2017.
Though the number of deaths recorded fell from 2,299 in 2018 to 2,183 in 2019, these figures do not include a rising number of shipwrecks still yet to be confirmed, according to data collected by IOM’s Missing Migrants Project, based at IOM’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC) in Berlin, Germany.
That is, this year’s figures do not fully reflect the several ghost boats which went missing in the Mediterranean in 2019, totaling at least 413 people lost at sea whose deaths may never be fully verified. In these cases of ghost boats, no migrants were rescued at sea around the time of the distress calls.
So, while the number of migrant deaths recorded in the Mediterranean is down in 2019 compared to previous years, IOM records indicate that hundreds of lives were lost without a trace this year.
These ‘ghost boats’ – vessels reported missing en route to Europe for which no hard evidence can be found – have become increasingly frequent since the search and rescue presence of European and non-governmental actors fell in mid-2017.
One of these unaccounted for boats was carrying at least 73 people and disappeared in the Alborán Sea en route to Spain on November 26, including 20 women and three children.
Another boat disappeared in the Western Mediterranean in January, while at least another five vessels went missing off the coast of Libya en route to Italy. In all seven of these 2019 cases recorded by the Missing Migrants Project, no survivors were rescued at sea near the time of the distress calls.
“The remains of those lost at sea this year may never be found, like thousands of others lost in the Mediterranean. Each year that these deaths continue means more families live in limbo, not knowing whether a relative is dead or alive”, said Frank Laczko, Director of IOM’s GMDAC. “If you come from a high-income country, efforts will be made to find and identify your body should you go missing. The same simply does not apply if you are an undocumented migrant.”
Sadly, ghost boats are not a new phenomenon: IOM documented six unverifiable reports of disappeared boats in the Mediterranean between 2014 and 2018. Beyond the Mediterranean, many more boats are believed to have been lost on overseas routes, notably on the Western African route to Spain’s Canary Islands. At least 170 migrants lost their lives on this route in 2019, compared to 43 last year.
Elsewhere in 2019, reported fatalities increased in several regions of the world, including Europe, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. The largest increase in fatalities was in the Americas, where 787 men, women and child migrants were confirmed lost, compared with in 593 confirmed in 2018, a rise of almost 33 per cent.
Of those 787 dead in the Americas, a total of 479 deaths–60 per cent–were confirmed just along the U.S.-México border. That is the highest total for border deaths IOM researchers have reported in any year since 2014. Moreover, with some U.S. counties in Texas and Arizona yet to report full end-of-year statistics, that 479 total is likely to rise in the days and weeks to come.
Last year IOM reported 444 deaths in this zone, 417 in 2017, 401 in 2016, 339 in 2015 and 306 in 2014, the year IOM first compiled these grim statistics.
Among those migrants perishing in the Americas, the greatest known number of deaths of any nationality came from Venezuela, with 103 victims in 2019. Others include nationals of Guatemala (69), México (67), Haití (62), Honduras (58), El Salvador (29), the Dominican Republic (15) and Cuba (8).