New figures have revealed that a record high of over 207,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean so far in 2014, in desperate attempts to reach Europe.
According to the UN’s Refugee Agency UNHCR, this is almost three times the previous known high of around 70,000 in 2011 during the height of the Arab spring.
For the first time, people from refugee-producing countries (mainly Syria and Eritrea) have in 2014 become a major component in this tragic flow, accounting for almost 50 per cent of the total.
Refugees, asylum seekers, stateless people and migrants routinely experience exploitation, abuse or violence during their journeys, and untold numbers have perished after boarding unseaworthy vessels.
According to UNHCR, in addition to the Mediterranean, there are at least three other major sea routes in use today both by migrants and people fleeing conflict or persecution. In the Horn of Africa region 82,680 people crossed the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea in the first 11 months of this year en route mainly from Ethiopia and Somalia to Yemen or onwards to Saudi Arabia and the countries of the Persian Gulf.
In Southeast Asia, an estimated 54,000 people have undertaken sea crossings so far in 2014, most of them departing from Bangladesh or Myanmar and heading to Thailand, Malaysia or Indonesia. In the Caribbean, at least 4,775 people are known to have taken to boats in the first 11 months, fleeing poverty or in search of asylum.
Refugee Council Head of Advocacy Dr Lisa Doyle said: “As the numbers of people taking to the sea in an attempt to reach safety rises, tragically so does the death toll. It’s shameful for political leaders to be content with leaving refugees to play Russian roulette with their lives on these perilous journeys. The international community must act swiftly to establish more safe and legal routes for people to access the protection they need and are entitled to. It would be morally bankrupt for our political leaders to respond to these figures by shrugging their shoulders and continuing to merely count the coffins.”