Ducor Sports Live Blog: Death in the Mediterranean – the Dangerous Journey from Africa to Europe

UPDATED October 26, 2020 10:56 am .

Francis Cordor
October 26, 2020 10:56 am

Imagine being plonked into an overcrowded fishing boat and sent out to sea in hopes of being rescued by coast guard patrols and good Samaritans before your unseaworthy boat sinks. Every day, hundreds of disparate Africans risk it all to embark on this type of dangerous journey. The risk is deemed worth it to escape the hardships in their homeland for a shot at a better life in Europe via the Mediterranean Sea.

A Dangerous Journey

According to a recent report in The Telegraph, roughly 47,000 African migrants have reached the shores of Europe this year with the majority of them coming from sub-Saharan Africans countries like Senegal, Nigeria and Gambia. Migrants from these countries are usually classified as economic migrants while migrants from Eritrea and Somalia are likely to be viewed as asylum seekers.

However, not everyone makes it. You’ve likely seen report after report of capsized and sinking boats, stranded boats, shipwrecks, and rescues at sea. It is estimated that more than 2,500 people have died in the first few months of this year trying to cross the Mediterranean in unseaworthy vessels or rubber fishing boats.

Though these numbers are alarming and clearly signal a crisis, sadly, this is starting to become business as usual. According to the Missing Migrants Project, in 2014, there were 3,279 migrant deaths in the Mediterranean. Last year, 3,673. This year’s total as of October 10 is 3,611 — a number that’s destined to rise in the next two and a half months.

Here’s something else to consider: these numbers are estimates. Actual deaths could be higher. How many overloaded fishing boats have gone down that we don’t know about? Human smugglers don’t exactly keep passenger manifests nor would they alert authorities should a boat go missing.

According to Global Migration Data Analysis Centre Data Briefing Series: Dangerous Journeys – International Migration Increasingly Unsafe in 2016, worldwide, the Mediterranean Sea accounted for 78 percent of all migrant deaths during the first half of this year. Increased attention to the area after years of deaths has translated into greater support for search-and-rescue efforts. These efforts are believed to have actually reduced the number of fatalities this year, which the article suggests would have been much higher.

The Deadliest Mediterranean Smuggling Route

The Mediterranean Sea has several smuggling routes, each with its own unique causes and risks. The Western route, from Morocco to Spain, has seen a doubling of fatalities this year compared to the previous two years. However, the fatality count, though devastating to the victims and their families, was just 45 for the first half of 2016.

The Eastern route saw more than 847,000 people fleeing Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq last year — but far fewer deaths than the Central Mediterranean Sea route which is used by Africans crossing from North Africa to Italy. The death rate for the Eastern route for the first half of 2016 was 1 in 400 whereas the death rate for the Central route was 1 in 24.

Why is the Central route so dangerous? The Global Migration Data Analysis Centre article explains that:

  • The distance traveled is much longer over this route compared to the other two routes — several hundred kilometers as opposed to a dozen or so for the other two routes.
  • The boats used for crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa via the Central route tend to be larger (and not necessarily seaworthy) than the smaller rubber boats favored on the other two routes. A single incident in the Central Mediterranean can result in hundreds of deaths at once compared to maybe 20 or so in the Eastern route.

Other Dangers Migrants Face

As dangerous as the journey from North Africa across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe is, migrants face a dangerous journey just getting to the boat launch. During the first six months of 2016, 342 migrant deaths were recorded from people traveling from the Horn of Africa and Niger to Libya and Egypt. Causes of deaths include:

  • Illness (111)
  • Starvation / Dehydration / Exposure (82)
  • Drowning (77)
  • Vehicle Accidents (48)
  • Violence (47)
  • Suffocation (19)
  • Unknown / Other (86)

The Reasons for the African Migration

According to International Organization for Migration (IOM)’s Displacement Tracking Matrix, the first half of 2016 has seen an increase in migrants from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Gambia, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal heading toward Libya and Algeria. The numbers are staggering: 160,537 or more people left from Niger traveling north through the Sahara Desert. At the same time 26,885 West Africans moved south from Algeria and Libya into Niger.

IOM interviews migrants as they pass through various monitoring points. The main reason for migration cited by outgoing migrants: economic reasons (88 percent for Séguédine, Niger and 93 percent for Arlit, Niger). Notably, 100 percent of those migrating into Séguédine were doing so due to war / conflict / insecurity.

As we know, extreme poverty and ongoing conflicts are rampant problems across the African continent. It’s an age old story playing out once again: the promise of a better life coupled with sheer desperation make a dangerous journey across the Mediterranean Sea worth the risk.


Pamela Dimmick of Celestial Content Services contributed to this story.

Featured Photo: Courtesy of Reuters/Handout


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