Beirut/Budapest/Geneva, 10 July 2020 – Red Crescent societies in Tunisia and Libya are seeing an increase in drownings on the shores of North Africa.
Warmer weather and relaxed COVID-19 lockdowns are thought to be behind an increase in numbers of people attempting to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe.
Many are not surviving the perilous journey, with 20 per cent more people estimated to have died in June this year as opposed to last year, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
IFRC President Francesco Rocca said:
“While Red Cross volunteers in Italy support those who have managed to survive the crossing, unfortunately on the other side of the Mediterranean, both Libyan and Tunisian Red Crescent volunteers are left to collect the bodies of those who didn’t.”
Libyan and Tunisian Red Crescent volunteers have the difficult task of finding the bodies of those who perish along the shoreline and transferring them with dignity to local hospitals. In the month of June alone, Red Crescent teams recovered 26 bodies in Libya and more than 30 in Tunisia.
President Rocca said:
“Each person who dies trying to cross that deadly stretch of water is more than just a statistic. They are someone who was full of hope for a better future, with family and friends who loved them, who likely faced countless hardships along the way only to have their life ended, we cannot forget this.”
More than twice the number of people have arrived on the shores of Italy this year compared to the same time as last year, according to the UN. However, this does not paint the full picture of the situation. The Italian government has declared its ports unsafe since April due to COVID-19 and any disembarkation of migrants has either been prevented until they can be rerouted to other countries or has been substantially delayed. This results in migrants being left on board for long periods of time with limited access to health, protection or any other type of assistance.
When they do arrive, Italian Red Cross volunteers are the first people they see, providing first aid and psychosocial support, facilitating quarantine measures and sharing information.
“Year after year the crossings continue. Our fear is that the situation will only get worse, with the deepening economic crisis caused by COVID-19,” said President Rocca. “We know that migrants already struggle with a lack of access to healthcare and hygiene facilities. They are too scared to seek help when sick and it is almost impossible for them to keep a physical distance from others in crowded refugee camps. These can all be contributing factors to people making the decision to attempt the crossing.”
Saving lives at sea and providing migrants with effective opportunities to access assistance and protection are collective responsibilities. EU Member States cannot face this alone. Across the sea, North and Central African countries also should not be left alone: humanity and solidarity are the only answers.
Central Mediterranean population movement: Humanitarian Service Point at sea
In recent years, there has been a sharp increase in the number of migrants attempting the deadly Central Mediterranean route. This emergency operation seeks a total of 2.4 million Swiss francs to enable the IFRC to provide humanitarian services on the sea section of this route. The IFRC is working in partnership with SOS Mediterranée with the objective of reducing human suffering and preventing loss of life through a fully able-to-assist rescue ship.