By Contributor Isabel Blum
On the other side of the world, the Mediterranean region continues to see the tragic deaths of migrants attempting to cross the Aegean and Ionian Seas. The most recent death of 12 migrants this past Thursday, January 11 was due to a sunken smuggling boat near western Greece. The incident on January 11 is the first migrant drowning in Greek waters in 2020, prompting a reexamination of the longstanding crisis.
Often overshadowed in American media by the immigrant crisis at the United States’ southern border, the sea route to Europe via the Mediterranean is considered the “world’s deadliest migration route.” Since 2014, migrants have fled war-torn countries, most recently Syria and Afghanistan, via the Mediterranean. In October 2015, sea and land arrivals spiked to a shocking 222,800 migrants. The immense pressure experienced by European countries due to the influx of immigrants prompted the signing of a 2016 deal between Turkey and the European Union to tackle the crisis and deter entrance to the EU through Greece. The agreement appears to have successfully controlled the entrance of migrants into Greece, as shown in the data collected by the UNHCR.
Although progress has been made, the estimate of “dead and missing” migrants in 2019 is 1,327, still higher than ideal. In 2019, 21.3% of refugees arriving in the Mediterranean were Afghan and 16.9% were Syrian, followed by Moroccan, Algerian, and Iraqi citizens. The majority of refugees enter Europe through Greece, Spain, and Italy crossing the Mediterranean through Central, Eastern, or Western routes. Institutions such as the International Organization for Migration record the death tolls on global migration routes through the Missing Migrants Project, attempting to create a clear picture of the crisis to aid the resolution.
As the new year begins, I believe that continuing to track the progress of the Mediterranean migration crisis is vital. Without outside pressure of citizens and lobbyists, the EU and Turkey are not incentivized to prevent the deaths of thousands of migrants. Any death toll is too high, and any migrant life lost is one too many, even if trends are showing the death rate slowing. Powerful governments like Turkey and the EU have the resources to ensure the safe relocation of migrants with credible fear claims to asylum, but will only use their power if the crisis is recognized worldwide as it was in 2015. Saving the lives of distressed men, women, and children critically requires us to maintain press coverage on the failures and successes of the 2016 EU-Turkey deal and hold their leaders accountable.