More migrants who crossed the Mediterranean landed in Spain than in Italy or Greece last year, the UN said in an annual report on Wednesday, with their journeys becoming more dangerous than ever.
The trend towards Spain was particularly prevalent in the second half of 2018, with Italy’s hardline immigration policies appearing to have a significant effect.
The Desperate Journeys report documented arrivals and deaths at sea, with 2,275 people perishing crossing the Mediterranean last year – six per day on average.
“On several occasions, large numbers of often traumatised and sick people were kept at sea for days before permission to disembark was granted, sometimes only after other states had pledged to relocate the majority of those who had been rescued,” it said.
This is despite Europe seeing the lowest number of refugees and migrants arriving for five years, at 139,300, consisting of 65,400 reaching Spain, Greece (50,500) and Italy (23,400).
Making matters worse is the situation in Libya, where enhanced efforts by the national coastguard has seen 85 per cent of those intercepted at sea being placed in arbitrary detention camps.
On the crossing from Libya to Europe, for instance, the fatality rate went from one for every 38 arrivals in 2017 to one for every 14 arrivals last year.
“It’s getting more and more difficult for people to flee and find safe access to asylum, rather than the fact that there are fewer problems that people are fleeing from,” Joung-ah Ghedini-Williams, head of UNHCR’s global communications desk, told reporters in New York.
There are also more unaccompanied children attempting the crossing.
“Of the arrivals to Spain, about 5,500 were children travelling on their own. It shows the level of hopelessness that families are feeling, that they are continuing to send their children alone on these very perilous journeys, especially to a fate unknown.”
Of the problems and detentions in Libya, she added: “We are dealing with not only the lack of capacity of search and rescue missions at sea but actual blockages of these missions that are taking place by NGOs and other bodies.”