UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. refugee agency said Thursday that some 186,000 migrants and refugees arrived in southern Europe so far this year, the vast majority in Italy.
Between January and Sept. 24, over 2,500 people seeking to cross the Mediterranean were found dead or are still missing, a significant increase from the 1,680 people who died or were missing during the same period in 2022, Ruven Menikdiwela, director of the New York office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told the U.N. Security Council.
The UNHCR estimates that over 102,000 refugees and migrants from Tunisia — a 260% increase from last year— and over 45,000 from Libya tried to cross the central Mediterranean to Europe between January and August, she said.
Some 31,000 people were rescued at sea or intercepted, and disembarked in Tunisia while 10,600 disembarked in Libya, Menikdiwela said.
The majority of migrants and refugees who made it to southern Europe arrived in Italy— over 130,000, an increase of 83% compared to the same period in 2022, she said. The others landed in Greece, Spain, Cyprus and Malta.
Menikdiwela told a council meeting called by Russia on migration to Europe that the high departure rates from Tunisia “result from the perception of insecurity among refugee communities, following incidents of racially motivated attacks and hate speech, as well as collective expulsions from Libya and Algeria.”
UNHCR faces restrictions in Libya where it has registered 50,000 refugees and asylum seekers and “the conditions of thousands of refugees and migrants in both official and unofficial detention facilities…. remain of grave concern,” she said.
The UNHCR figures she quoted were similar to those presented by Par Liljert, director of the International Office for Migration’s office to the United Nations.
He also highlighted “the dire conditions facing migrants and refugees” seeking to cross the Mediterranean.
“Recent IOM data demonstrates that from January to September 2023, more than 187,000 individuals crossed the Mediterranean in pursuit of a better future and the promise of safety,” Liljert told the council. “Tragically, during this same period, IOM recorded 2,778 deaths with 2,093 of them occurring along the treacherous central Mediterranean route,” which is the most dangerous.
“Yet, despite its clear dangers, in 2023 there has been an increase in arrivals to Greece along this route of over 300%, while the number of arrivals in Spain has remained steady, primarily through the Atlantic route to the Canary Islands as compared to the numbers recorded at the same time last year,” he said.
IOM also witnessed a significant increase in arrivals to Italy, with 130,000 so far this year compared to around 70,000 in 2022.