Dozens of people dead and missing after tragedies off the Canary Islands and Greece as death toll continues to raise across irregular sea routes to Europe. Civilian rescue operators have reportedly rescued and disembarked 10,000 survivors in Italy in 2022 but could see the crack-down by authorities worsening with a new far-right government.

Based on the testimony of the only survivor, rescued by a merchant vessel south of Gran Canaria, more than 30 people are believed missing after a shipwreck on the Atlantic on 1 October. The survivor and the missing had been at sea for nine days and four dead bodies were recovered. According to the Spanish Interior Ministry more than 11,500 people had arrived to the Canary Islands in 2022 as of 15 September via the dangerous Atlantic route. The NGO, Caminando Fronteras estimates that over 900 people died or went missing trying to reach Spain this year.

At least 21 people including at least 15 women and a teenage boy died and dozens remain missing after two separate shipwrecks off Greece on the evening of 5 September. 10 women were rescued from the first shipwreck off Lesvos of a boat believed to have carried around 40 people departing from the Turkish coast. The search for another at least 15 people who remain missing is ongoing. A second boat sank at Kythera, south of Peloponnese after smashing against the rocks on the coast. According to Aegean Boat Report there were 95 people aboard and 69 were rescued including 18 children and 26 people remain missing. Greek Migration and Asylum Minister, Notis Mitarachi emphasized Turkish responsibility with an “Urgent Call” for “immediate action to prevent all irregular departures due to harsh weather conditions” and urged non-defined EU action. However, Mobile Info Team stated: “Another shipwreck at Greek borders. These deaths are not from isolated, random accidents. They are a direct result of violent EU border policies, lack of safe & legal passage, and ineffective search & rescue operations”. Increasing numbers of people attempting to reach Italy from Turkije end up in distress in Greek waters and over the weekend 56 people were rescued by a tanker in the eastern Mediterranean. Before the latest tragedies and since the beginning of 2022, 237 people have been recorded dead or missing in their attempt to cross the Eastern Mediterranean route, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM)’s missing migrants project.

While there are different estimates of the number of deaths across the Mediterranean it is clear that the lack of safe and legal routes are claiming thousands of lives every year. IOM’s missing migrants project estimates that the total number of dead or missing in the Mediterranean Sea in 2022 so far is 1,522 people. The NGO hotline, Alarm Phone reported on 6 October: “Tragedy in front of Tunisia. Found and identified the body of the woman who left Zarzis 15 days ago as part of a group of 17 people. So far only 3 bodies have been recovered and 14 people are still missing. Our hearts and sorrow is with the families & friends”.

The civilian rescue operators continue to save lives and according to InfoMigrants: ”NGO-run rescue vessels operating in the Mediterranean Sea have taken to Italy a total of 10,000 migrants during the first nine months of 2022, compared to 6,000 last year”. However, the ongoing crack-down on the civil fleet by Italian authorities is feared to worsen with a new far-right government. Sea-Watch International that saw its vessel Sea-Watch 3 blocked by Italian authorities on 30 September, stated: “The Italian government continues its policy of deterrence,” adding “our response will be the Sea-Watch 5, which will set sail in a few months: a faster, larger (it will be able to hold up to 500 passengers), more efficient boat”. SOS Humanity, operating Humanity 1 vessel (German) expressed deep concern over “the right-wing alliance that will be in government in Italy, which wants to actively prevent immigration”, noting: “During the electoral campaign, it became very clear that the human rights of international refugees don’t count and that non-governmental search-and-rescue organizations are threatened of a massive blockade”. After disembarking 88 people including 68 unaccompanied children on Lampedusa on 2 October, French vessel M.V. Louise Michel rescued 48 people in distress following alert from Alarm Phone on 4 October.

For further information:

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.