In 2022, the Alarm Phone NGO was alerted to 673 migrant boats in distress in the central Mediterranean region, the Alarm Phone said in a report.
In view of 27 distress cases in 2018, 101 in 2019, 173 in 2020, and 407 in 2021, 2022 was by far the busiest year the Alarm Phone has experienced in this region, according to the report.
This increase in alerts to boats in distress reflects an overall increase in crossings as well as a growing awareness of the Alarm Phone among communities ‘on the move’, it added.
About 105,000 people have arrived through the central Mediterranean route, a considerable increase to the 67,500 people who arrived in 2021, the 34,000 in 2020, and 11,500 in 2019.
This increase highlights that despite European efforts to build up, finance, and equip the so-called Libyan coastguard over recent years, and despite intensifying cooperation between European and Tunisian authorities, people continue to succeed in escaping across the sea, the NOG pointed out.
The vast majority of people arriving in Italy arrived autonomously or were rescued only a few nautical miles off Italian coasts. People on the move have adapted to European forms of non-assistance where they cannot expect to be rescued by European authorities over considerable distances, especially in the Maltese Search and Rescue (SAR) zone.
According to the UNHCR, only 430 people were rescued to Malta, showing once more the reluctance of the Armed Forces of Malta to engage in rescue operations.
Despite the high number of arrivals, tens of thousands of people were not able to reach Europe, being abducted at sea and returned to the places they tried to escape from.
Tunisian coastguards have repeatedly engaged in dangerous interception operations, some of which have ended deadly. According to the Forum Tunisien pour les Droits Économiques et Sociaux (FTDES), about 29,000 people were returned to Tunisia until the end of October 2022.
The IOM estimates that about 24,700 people were returned to Libya from the sea.
The withdrawal of European rescue assets and the systematic non-assistance of boats in distress at sea have cost lives at sea, Alarm Phone said.
The IOM estimates that 1,377 people have died or disappeared in the central Mediterranean in 2022 – of course an undercount as many deaths and disappearances are never accounted for.
“Family members regularly contact Alarm Phone in their desperate search for their loved ones and many, including families in Zarzis/Tunisia, have taken to the streets to protest EU border violence and demand answers from the European and Tunisian authorities about their missing children.”