Geneva – Dozens of migrants and asylum seekers have died or gone missing after their boat sank off the Tunisian coast a few days ago, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said in a statement expressing deep regret.
A rubber boat sailed from the coast of the city of Zuwara in northwestern Libya carrying 100 migrants and asylum seekers before it sank last Monday off the coast of the state of Sfax, southeast of Tunisia. According to the International Organization for Migration, 24 people were rescued, and 76 others are still missing.
Most of the victims are from sub-Saharan Africa, and some of them are of Arab nationalities, but it has not yet been possible to accurately determine the nationalities of the drowned.
Since the beginning of this year, the number of documented migrant and asylum seeker drownings has risen to about 800, in more than 85 incidents in the Mediterranean. This is almost equal to the number during the same period last year, which indicates that the concerned parties ignore all efforts to save the lives of these innocent people.
The modest search and rescue efforts and poor response to the appeals of migrant boats that have sunk have contributed directly to the increase in the number of victims. In some cases, sinking boats were discovered accidentally by fishing boats—unequipped for rescuing migrants—that happened to be near the area.
The EU destination countries' harsh migration policies push migrants and asylum seekers to choose dangerous routes to reach Europe. Meanwhile, they continue to support violent pushbacks to unsafe countries without regard to the horrific abuses in those countries.
Michela Pugliese, Migration and Asylum Researcher at Euro-Med Monitor, said: "What is worrying the most in the EU's dealing with the drownings of migrants and asylum seekers is that the concerned parties seem to be indifferent when dealing with these incidents, as if the lives of the victims are not so important to take any special action to put an end to this ongoing tragedy."
"As human rights defenders, it is important to continue to speak out against all policies that directly or indirectly cause the drowning incidents of migrants and asylum seekers in the Med. Hundreds of people dying every year from preventable causes should not be normal."
In January, Euro-Med Monitor released a report on the rise of the number of drowned migrants and asylum seekers as well as those arriving in Europe during the past year. About 116,573 migrants and asylum seekers reached Europe via the Mediterranean in 2021, an increase of more than 20% from 2020, which saw the arrival of 88,143 migrants and asylum seekers.
Similarly, 2021 witnessed an increase in the number of deaths and missing persons in the sea, as about 1,864 people died or went missing, including 64 children, an increase of about 21% over 2020, in which the number was 1,401.
The countries of origin and destination and all other relevant parties should provide assistance to those stranded at sea and implement the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea—which emphasized the necessity of saving and assisting people stranded at sea—as well as the International Convention on Research and rescue—which urged coastal states to coordinate to rescue the distressed at sea.
The EU should reactivate its official rescue missions, conduct permanent patrols to ensure effective handling of any potential drownings, and deal with all victims around the world with one humanitarian perspective.
The EU should work on providing safe channels for migration to protect migrants and asylum seekers from human traffickers, develop reception mechanisms, not reject asylum applications arbitrarily, and work in a positive way to integrate migrants and refugees into their new societies.