8,500 people lost in Mediterranean since death of Alan Kurdi

Figures show perilous journeys continue on anniversary of three-year-old’s death

A paramilitary police officer carries the body of Alan Kurdi (3)  after a number of migrants died when the boats carrying them to the Greek island of Kos capsized near the Turkish resort of Bodrum on September 2nd, 2005. Photograph:  AP Photo

A paramilitary police officer carries the body of Alan Kurdi (3) after a number of migrants died when the boats carrying them to the Greek island of Kos capsized near the Turkish resort of Bodrum on September 2nd, 2005. Photograph: AP Photo

 

At least 8,500 people have died or disappeared while attempting to cross the Mediterranean since the death of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy whose body washed ashore in Turkey in 2015, drawing global attention to the plight of refugees.

According to the latest figures released by the UN’s refugee agency, 4,337 people are believed to have drowned since September 2016 while attempting to reach European shores. Most departed from Libya bound for Italy, from Turkey bound for Greece or, more recently, from Morocco bound for Spain.

A further 4,185 people died in the previous 12 months, from September 1st, 2015 until the end of August 2016.

The figures have been released by the UNHCR to mark the second anniversary of the Syrian boy’s death.

The agency said that although the number of refugees arriving in Europe had “drastically decreased” since Kurdi’s death, perilous sea journeys continued to result in the deaths of thousands. Clampdowns on routes to Europe via Libya and restrictions imposed on the Turkey-Greece route are partly responsible for the reduction in the number of people arriving, but this is leading hundreds to risk their lives crossing the Strait of Gibraltar from Morocco to Spain on inflatable vessels and rickety fishing boats.

The refugee agency urged the international community to take action to prevent further tragedies, saying in a statement that if poor conditions continued in countries such as Syria, people “will continue to gamble their lives making desperate journeys”.

“Many of the children trying to reach Europe travel on their own, making the journey even more terrifying and perilous,” the UNHCR said. “This was the case for 92 per cent of the 13,700 children who arrived to Italy by sea in the first seven months of 2017.”

According to the International Organisation for Migration, more than 120,000 people have arrived in Europe by sea so far this year, with about 82 per cent travelling to Italy from Libya. In June, Italian coast guards rescued about 5,000 people in one day in the Mediterranean.

In August, 600 people were rescued by the Spanish maritime safety and rescue agency and the Red Cross in a single day. They arrived in at least 15 different vessels off the coast of Tarifa.

Guardian service