Light Wave


Migrant Drowning Deaths Top 1,800 in Mediterranean in 2023

By Belal Awad · August 9, 2023

In brief…

  • A migrant boat capsized near Italy's Lampedusa Island, leaving at least 41 dead.
  • Survivors reported that only 15 out of 45 people had life vests.
  • The incident is the latest in a series of deadly migrant shipwrecks in the Mediterranean Sea.
  • More than 1,800 migrants have drowned in such incidents so far this year.
  • Humanitarian organizations face challenges due to new laws in Italy that make sea rescues more difficult and time consuming.
  • Lukas Kaldenhoff from SOS Humanity has called for EU-wide and state-coordinated search-and-rescue programs to ensure safer routes for migrants and refugees.
Migant men, women and children are drowning at alarming rates as they cross the Mediterranean in search of refuge.  Mstyslav Chernov,Unframe/Wikimedia

At least 41 migrants have drowned after their boat capsized off the coast of Italy’s Lampedusa Island, marking the latest in a string of recent deadly migrant shipwrecks. Three men and a woman from Ivory Coast and Guinea were rescued by a cargo ship after several hours at sea. The four survivors told rescuers that only 15 out of the 45 people on board were wearing life vests when a giant wave capsized their small metal boat, which had set sail from the Tunisian port city of Sfax six hours earlier.

The Mediterranean Sea continues to claim the lives of a multitude of migrants attempting the perilous journey from North Africa to Europe, with many dubbing it a watery graveyard. Lukas Kaldenhoff, of search-and-rescue organization SOS Humanity, told BBC, “From what we know, in several shipwrecks, there were a total of approximately 130 people who died or went missing in the last days”.

According to a report from the International Organization for Migration, more than 1,800 migrants seeking new lives have drowned so far this year - nearly 10 people a day. “This shows once again that there is a huge necessity for states to take their responsibility to send vessels capable of rescuing people on the move and to coordinate such distress cases.” said Kaldenhoff.

Tunisia, where the boat’s journey began, has recently made headlines for its harsh treatment of migrants and refugees.

Meanwhile, Italy has introduced new laws which humanitarian organizations say will only serve to further restrict sea rescues. After each rescue, civil vessels like ones belonging to SOS Humanity are now required to sail to distant ‘places of safety’ to disembark the rescued individuals, thereby preventing the vessels from carrying out consecutive rescue missions in an efficient manner.

Kaldenhoff said these laws hinder their work, adding, “The problem is that these places of safety assigned are often far away in northern Italy. So it takes us often… up to five days to go there, disembark the people, and then it’s again another five, six-day journey down south.”

Kaldenhoff called on the EU to provide safe and legal routes for migrants and refugees, especially in Tunisia and Libya. “There are no legal ways for them to seek asylum there, to have a safe passage to come to Europe,” he said. “What it would need is an EU-wide and state-coordinated search-and-rescue program.”