Migration and refugee flows from sub-Saharan and North Africa, the Middle East and into Europe are among the most complex in the world, with acute humanitarian needs for many people on the move. The effects of COVID19 on global mobility have not halted migration flows through the three northward trans-Mediterranean routes (Eastern, Central and Western Mediterranean). The Central Mediterranean route, from North Africa (primarily Libya) to Italy continues to be the most active and dangerous routes for people crossing to Europe by sea.
In 2021, the number of migrants crossing the Central Mediterranean is significantly higher than in 2020. Between January – September 2021, the total number of attempted crossings on this route stands at 80,680. while 2020 saw a total of 62,799 attempted crossings. On 27 September alone, 725 migrants landed at the Italian island of Lampedusa.
Since 2014, an estimated 22,653 people have lost their lives crossing the Mediterranean, with the Central Mediterranean crossing being the world’s deadliest migratory sea route (IOM, 2021). In 2020, 984 people lost their lives on the Central Mediterranean route (IOM, 2021), in the first nine months of 2021 that figure already stands at 1,115 lives lost or missing (IOM, 2021). The actual number of fatalities recorded on migratory routes is likely to be much higher largely due to unreported and “invisible” shipwrecks.
Figures of sea arrivals to Europe are expected to remain high in the last months of the year 2021, with October and November being the months with the highest number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean in 2020.
In September 2021, two other NGO Ships were assisting migrants on the Central Mediterranean Route. NGO ships were on patrol on 16 different days in September; civilian aircraft monitoring flights were carried out on 14 days in this month.
The Humanitarian Service Point @ Sea Operation is a core part of the three-year route-based migration plan of action Humanitarian Assistance and Protection for People on the Move, launched on 27 August 2021. This plan of action, spanning across land and maritime routes in Africa, Middle East, and Europe, aims to support more than 2 million people on the move and more than 500,000 people from host communities, including the humanitarian services of 34 National Societies, through a holistic, integrated, and comprehensive route-based response.
The operational schedule was dependent on several external factors, including the prolonged duration of the previous patrol of the Ocean Viking, an extended COVID-19 quarantine in Italy due to some positive cases amongst the crew, and last/minute repairs on the vessel during the Marseille port call. With an intended start date of the vessel on 18 August, the rotation of the MV Ocean Viking with the first five IFRC personnel onboard started on 13 September 2021 from Marseille.
Onboard the SAR vessel, SOS MEDITERRANEE focused on the maritime and Search & Rescue operation, while the IFRC’s teams focus was on the humanitarian Post Rescue Services. During the patrol period in the Mediterranean Sea, the crew rescued a total of 129 people in distress on wooden boats. The patrol of the vessel terminated on 05 October after disembarkation of survivors in the Sicilian port of Augusta and subsequent COVID-19 quarantine of the crew.
Source: International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies