The number of migrants and asylum-seekers who reached Europe in 2020 is the lowest it has been in the past decade, according to a report released Friday by the United Nations migration agency.
But deaths and disappearances on sea routes remain alarmingly high with only a small fraction of bodies recovered and victims identified.
Of the 93,000 people who entered Europe irregularly last year, roughly 92% did so via the Western, Central and Eastern Mediterranean Sea, as well as through the Atlantic Ocean off West Africa to Spain’s Canary Islands, often on unseaworthy boats.
Arrivals in the Canaries, considered part of the Schengen area, increased by 750% last year.
The numbers had already picked up before the pandemic following tougher border controls and interceptions on the Mediterranean by North African countries, but COVID-19 seems to have “acted as a multiplier of existing factors motivating migration on this route,” the report said.
It added that many migrants previously worked in sectors such as fishing and agriculture that have suffered greatly from the economic consequences of the pandemic.
The sea routes are lethal. The International Organization for Migration’s Missing Migrants Project has confirmed the death or disappearances of nearly 2,300 people last year.
This number is higher than in 2019 when 2,095 victims were recorded and slightly lower than in 2018 which had 2,344.—AP