Over 1,100 Migrants Have Died in 2021 Attempting Sea Crossing into Europe: U.N.

At least 1,146 people died while attempting to reach Europe by sea during the first six months of 2021, the U.N. migration agency said in a report on Wednesday.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the number of migrants and refugees who died between January and June of this year more than doubled compared to the first six months of 2020. It also reported the number of people attempting to cross the Mediterranean into Europe had increased by 58 percent.

As many shipwrecks are not reported and accidents at sea can be difficult to verify, the agency said the actual number of deaths may be far higher than stated in the report, the Associated Press reported.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Spain Migrants
The U.N. migration agency says the number of migrants and refugees who died while attempting to reach Europe on dangerous sea routes more than doubled so far this year compared to the first six months of 2020. The International Organization for Migration said in a new report on July 14, 2021, that at least 1,146 people perished between January and June. Above, the body of a young man is covered with an emergency blanket after being recovered by Spanish police from waters near the border between Morocco and Spain's north African enclave of Ceuta on May 20, 2021. Bernat Armangue, File/AP Photo

The Central Mediterranean route between Libya and Italy was the deadliest, claiming 741 lives. Next was the stretch of the Atlantic Ocean between West Africa and Spain's Canary Islands, where at least 250 people died, the agency said. At least 149 people also died on the Western Mediterranean route to Spain, as well as at least six on the Eastern Mediterranean route to Greece.

The IOM says the actual number of deaths on sea routes to Europe may be far higher as many shipwrecks go unreported and others are hard to verify.

Human rights organizations have warned that the absence of government search and rescue vessels, particularly in the Central Mediterranean, would make migrant crossings more dangerous, as European governments increasingly rely on and support North African countries with fewer resources to handle search and rescue operations.

Tunisia increased such operations by 90 percent in the first six months of 2021, while Libyan authorities intercepted and returned more than 15,000 men, women and children to the war-torn country, three times more people than in the same period last year, the IOM report said.

Meanwhile, Italian authorities increasingly targeted charity rescue ships that have worked over the years to fill the void left by European governments, routinely detaining the vessels operated by nongovernmental organizations for months, sometimes years.

While many factors contributed to this year's higher death toll, including an increase in the number of flimsy boats attempting sea crossings, "the absence of proactive, European, state-led search and rescue operations in international waters combined with restrictions on NGOs" was among the main factors, IOM spokesperson Safa Msehli said.

"These people cannot be abandoned in such a dangerous journey," Msehli told The Associated Press.

Italy detained nine NGO-operated ships so far this year, according to Matteo Villa, a research fellow for the independent think thank ISPI, who tracks data and statistics on migration.

Mediterranean countries such as Italy, Malta, Spain and Greece have repeatedly asked other European countries for help caring for the people who are rescued and brought to their shores.

Last year, when pandemic restrictions made it hard to move between countries, the number of refugees and migrants arriving in Europe by sea dropped to its lowest level since 2015. That year, 1 million reached Europe, many of them refugees fleeing the war in Syria.

The deadliest shipwreck so far this year took place April 22 off Libya, when 130 people drowned despite sending multiple distress calls.

The EU-trained and equipped Libyan coast guard was criticized after video emerged showing one of its vessels chasing and firing warning shots at a migrant boat on June 30. Libyan authorities acknowledged the coast guard vessel's actions endangered the lives of migrants and vowed to hold those responsible to account.

In recent years, human rights groups have reported the mistreatment, torture and abuse of migrants and refugees after they are intercepted by the Libyan coast guard and placed in dreadful detention centers.

Britain Migration
The number of people who have attempted to cross into Europe by sea during the first six months of 2021 has more than doubled compared to the first six months of 2020. Above, Waleed, 29, a Kuwaiti migrant, lifts a child onboard the DHB Dauntless tug boat as he is brought to shore by the UK Border Force after illegally crossing the English Channel from France on a dinghy on September 11, 2020, in the marina at Dover, on the south coast of England. Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images