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Decline in migrants arrivals at Italian shores, rise in deaths at sea for 3 reasons: UNHCR

The Address | Benghazi – Libya

ITALY – In 2018 refugee and migrant sea arrivals from Libya to Europe have been at an unprecedented low since the onset of refugee and migrant sea arrivals from 2011 onwards. The risk of death at sea doubled from two per cent in 2017 to four per cent in 2018, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a report.

Only 15,342 refugees and migrants arrived from Libya in 2018, a seven-fold decrease compared to the previous year. Interceptions and returns to Libya, operated by the Libyan Coast Guard (LCG), increased drastically, with 47 per cent of all individuals who left Libya by boat being returned to the country, 15,235 individuals, the report said.

At the same time, the risk of death at sea doubled from two per cent in 2017 to four per cent in 2018. 3311 individuals were reported dead or missing in the Mediterranean sea off the Libyan coast in 2018.

The decline in arrivals at Italian shores, and rise in deaths at sea, has coincided with three major trends in the Mediterranean region, according to UNHCR.

First, since early 2017, a number of migration measures have been implemented in Libya and the Sahel region in cooperation with the European Union (EU) to stem the flow of arrivals to Italy, one of which included increased EU support for the LCG along the western coast of the country.

Second, in mid-2018, Libyan authorities declared a Libyan Search And Rescue (SAR) zone off Libya’s western coast, in a maritime area previously mostly coordinated by the Italian coast guard, enabling Libyan authorities to return shipwrecked individuals to Libya, rather than carrying rescued individuals to European shores.

Third, since mid-2017 increased legal and political attacks on charity and privately-run rescue ships have led to an almost complete seizure of all rescue at sea activities by charity or privately-run rescue boats.8 As of January 2019, only one privately-run SAR boat was operating between Libya and Italy.

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