Migrant Deaths in the Mediterranean Surge in 2023

The plight of migrants braving treacherous seas in the hope of a better future in Europe has intensified in 2023.

by Faruk Imamovic
Migrant Deaths in the Mediterranean Surge in 2023
© Getty Images News/Chris McGrath

The plight of migrants braving treacherous seas in the hope of a better future in Europe has intensified in 2023. More than 2,500 have tragically lost their lives or disappeared since the start of the year while attempting to cross the Mediterranean, according to an official from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

A Daunting Increase in Numbers

“By September 24, over 2,500 people were accounted as dead or missing in 2023 alone,” reported Menikdiwela, an official from UNHCR. Alarmingly, this number is a significant escalation from the 1,680 reported in the same period the previous year.

The relentless dangers of both sea and overland routes to Europe have contributed to this grim tally. “Lives are also lost on land, away from public attention,” Menikdiwela highlighted. Further underscoring the perilous nature of these journeys, Menikdiwela added that the migrants and refugees “risk death and gross human rights violations at every step”.

The data presented by the UNHCR aligns closely with the figures shared by Par Liljert, director of the International Office for Migration (IOM). Liljert informed the Security Council, “From January to September 2023, over 187,000 individuals made the harrowing journey across the Mediterranean in search of a brighter, safer future”.

Of this brave cohort, the IOM recorded 2,778 deaths. Liljert further pointed out the central Mediterranean route's particularly hazardous nature, responsible for 2,093 of these deaths.

European Arrival Points and Countries of Departure

Despite the palpable dangers, there has been no decrease in attempts.

“In 2023, we observed a rise in arrivals to Greece by over 300 percent, even as Spain's numbers held steady, especially through the Atlantic route leading to the Canary Islands," Liljert said. Official records indicate that from January 1 to September 24, 2023, Southern Europe, including nations such as Italy, Greece, Cyprus, and Malta, saw the arrival of 186,000 migrants.

Italy alone received 130,000, marking "an increase of 83 percent annually compared with the same period in 2022”. As for departure points, data revealed that between January and August 2023, over 102,000 migrants embarked from Tunisia, and 45,000 set out from Libya.

Of these brave souls, 31,000 were either rescued at sea or intercepted, later landing in Tunisia, with 10,600 making their way to Libya. The profound surge in numbers and tragic loss of life underscores the desperate circumstances many face in their home countries, driving them to risk everything for a chance at safety and a brighter future in Europe.