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According to the International Organization for Migration, the number of irregular migrant arrivals through the Mediterranean migration routes picked up again after reaching a low point in 2020. Almost 145,000 migrants traveling in boats across the Mediterranean have arrived in Greece, Italy and Spain last year. This number had reached a low of around 68,000 registered arrivals in the first year of the coronavirus pandemic. In 2016, the first year on record with the IOM, it had been as high as 363,000 – with many more crossing migrants likely having alluded the count.
The high number of crossings in 2016 was created by a combination of many migrants from African countries using the Central Mediterranean route to Italy and many people fleeing the Syrian civil war attempting the crossing on the Eastern Route to Greece at the same time. In more recent years, the focus has been on the Central crossing to Italy and also to the island nation of Malta.
While the topic is only slowly returning to headline news, a number of humanitarian missions who dispatch boats to help migrant vessels in peril have continued their run-ins with authorities in Mediterranean countries and say that they have been hindered in carrying out their missions. While assisting boats in trouble in one’s vicinity is the law for anyone operating seaborne vessels, the issue around rescue missions has been highly politicized.
Two cases receiving much media attention in 2018 and 2019 were those of Claus-Peter Reisch of German NGO Mission Lifeline, who was sentenced in a Maltese court to pay 10,000 euros over claims his ship wasn’t registered properly (he won on appeal) and of captain Carola Rackete of Berlin-based organization Sea-Watch, who was arrested in Italy for docking without permission. The case was eventually dismissed.
This chart shows irregular migrant arrivals by Mediterranean migration route (2016-2022).
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