A look at migration trends behind the latest shipwreck off Greece

ROME – The deadly shipwreck off southern Greece on Wednesday, which saw a large boat carrying migrants capsize after apparently refusing offers of help, is just the latest case of smugglers loading ships full of desperate people ready to risk their lives to reach continental Europe.

Here is a look at the situation in the Mediterranean and some details of the recent tragedy:


Greek Coast Guards, Navy and merchant ships and planes launched an extensive search and rescue operation after the overcrowded fishing boat capsized and sank about 75 kilometers (45 miles) southwest of the southern Peloponnese peninsula early Wednesday.

So far, 79 bodies have been recovered and 104 people have been rescued. It was unclear how many were missing, but some initial reports suggested hundreds may have been on board. If confirmed, the wreck could become the deadliest so far this year.

What about the offers of help?

But Alarm Phone, a network of activists that runs a hotline for distressed refugee boats, said they had been in contact with people they believed were on the same ship and needed urgent help. Passengers reported that the captain had left the ship on a small boat before it capsized, Alarm Phone said.

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Vincent Cochetel, Special Envoy of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for the Western and Central Mediterranean, tweeted: “This boat was not seaworthy and no matter what some people on board may have said, the notion of distress at sea cannot be debated.”

Many migrants are trying to bypass Greece and make their way to Italy, where they can more easily continue their journey north to families and other migrant communities elsewhere.

Had the migrants been rescued by Greek authorities, they would have to travel across the often hostile Balkans to reach western or northern Europe. The route north of Italy is closer and often more accessible.


Most migrants arrive in Greece from Turkey, either taking small boats to reach the nearby eastern Greek islands or crossing the Evros River – called Meric in Turkey – which runs along the land border.

Border crossings have fallen sharply in recent years as Greece has increased maritime patrols and erected a border fence along the Evros River. But the country faces persistent allegations from migrants, human rights groups and Turkish officials that it is pushing migrants back across the border into Turkey, illegally preventing them from seeking asylum. Athens has repeatedly denied this.

Alarm Phone blamed Greek migration policies for the shipwreck, saying Athens had become Europe’s “shield” to deter migration. The Greek Coast Guard defended its actions, arguing that it continued to accompany the ship even after the refusal to provide assistance and that it initiated the search and rescue operation after the boat capsized.


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Italy has registered the vast majority of “irregular” arrivals in Europe so far this year, with 55,160. That’s more than double the 21,884 who arrived during the same period in 2022 and 16,737 in 2021. People from Ivory Coast, Egypt, Guinea, Pakistan and Bangladesh are the top arrivals this year, according to the Interior Ministry.

UN refugee officials note that the total number of migrants trying to get to Europe via this route has declined, averaging about 120,000 a year.

In addition to the deadly Central Mediterranean route, the Western Mediterranean route is used by migrants wishing to cross to Spain from Morocco or Algeria. The Eastern Mediterranean route has traditionally been used by Syrian, Iraqi, Afghan and other non-African migrants who first travel to Turkey and then attempt to reach Greece or other European destinations.

How dangerous is the Mediterranean?

Even before the deaths on Wednesday, it was known that at least 1,039 people were missing on crossings across the central Mediterranean this year. Given the likelihood that some wrecks were never recorded, it is believed that the actual number is far higher. In total, the International Organization for Migration has counted more than 27,000 missing migrants in the Mediterranean since 2014.


On April 18, 2015, the deadliest known shipwreck in the Mediterranean occurred when an overcrowded fishing boat off Libya collided with a freighter that was trying to come to its rescue. Only 28 people survived. At first it was feared that the remains of 700 people were in the ship’s hull. Forensic experts working to identify the dead concluded in 2018 that there were originally 1,100 on board.

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On October 3, 2013, a trawler carrying more than 500 people, including many from Eritrea and Ethiopia, caught fire and capsized within sight of an uninhabited island off the southern Italian island of Lampedusa. Local fishermen rushed to help save lives. In the end, 155 people survived and 368 people died.

Another shipwreck happened just a week later, on October 11, further out at sea south of Lampedusa. The disaster has become known in Italy as the “child slaughter” because 60 of the more than 260 fatalities were children. In 2017, Italian weekly L’Espresso published audio recordings of the migrants’ desperate calls for help and the apparent delay in rescue by Italian and Maltese authorities.


Mediterranean countries have complained for years that they bear the brunt of receiving and processing migrants, and have long called for other countries to step in and take them in.

Poland, Hungary and other Eastern European countries have repeatedly rejected an EU plan to share the burden of caring for migrants. But after years of bickering, EU leaders announced last week that there had been a breakthrough in negotiations on a new migration and asylum agreement.

Human rights groups say the EU has outsourced rescuing migrants to the Libyan Coast Guard, which sends them back to horrific camps where many face beatings, rape and other ill-treatment. The EU and its member states have also reached agreements with other North African countries to improve their border controls and prevent migrant boats from reaching Europe.


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