Thousands of migrants dying on trek across Africa: UN
GENEVA, July 29, 2020 (BSS/AFP) – Thousands of migrants have died
after suffering “extreme” abuse while crossing Africa, according to a
UN report on Wednesday that estimated 72 people perish each month on
the continent’s routes.
There has been considerable focus on the thousands lost at sea
while trying to cross from Africa to Europe, but a new report found
that routes from West and East Africa up towards the Mediterranean can
be equally perilous.
Entitled “On this journey, no one cares if you live or die”, the
report published jointly by the UN refugee agency and the Danish
Refugee Council’s Mixed Migration Centre (MMC) details horrific
dangers many face along the way.
Most migrants making such journeys experience or witness
“unspeakable brutality and inhumanity” by smugglers, traffickers,
militias and sometimes state actors, the UNHCR said.
In 2018 and 2019 alone, at least 1,750 people died, corresponding
to an average of 72 a month, “making it one of the most deadly routes
for refugees and migrants in the world,” the report found.
– ‘Tip of the iceberg’ –
UNHCR’s Special Envoy for the Central Mediterranean Situation,
Vincent Cochetel, told reporters that those numbers were considered “a
“That’s just the visible tip of the iceberg.”
“For too long, the harrowing abuses experienced by refugees and
migrants along these overland routes have remained largely invisible,”
UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi said in the statement.
The report, he said, documents “killings and widespread violence of
the most brutal nature, perpetrated against desperate people fleeing
war, violence and persecution.”
Nearly a third of those who die along these overland routes tried
to cross the Sahara desert. Others perished in the south of
war-ravaged Libya, while another deadly route crosses conflict-ridden
Central African Republic and Mali.
Those who survive are often left severely traumatised.
This is particularly true for the many who pass through Libya,
where random killings, torture, forced labour and beatings are
widespread, the report found.
Tens of thousands of refugees and asylum-seekers, often sub-Saharan
African and Asian migrants hoping to make it across the Mediterranean,
have been stranded in chaos-wracked Libya, now a key route for illicit
migration to Europe.
And many of those who try to cross the Mediterranean are stopped
and turned back by the Libyan coastguard.
More than 6,200 refugees were forced to disembark in Libya so far
this year alone, the report said, stressing that many are then
detained in “appalling conditions”.
Women and girls, but also men and boys, face a high risk of rape
and other sexual abuse along the various routes, in particular at
checkpoints, in border areas and during desert crossings, the report
– ‘Follow the money’ –
Smugglers were the main perpetrators in North and East Africa,
while in West Africa police and security forces were held responsible
for a quarter of the reported sexual assaults.
Around a third of those who reported witnessing or surviving sexual
violence said it had occurred in more than one location.
“Strong leadership and concerted action are needed by states in the
region, with support from the international community, to end these
cruelties, protect the victims and prosecute the criminals
responsible,” Grandi said.
Cochetel lamented that so far such action had been cruelly lacking.
Over the past two years, he pointed out, there has not been a
single arrest of a UN-sanctioned trafficker and no new names have been
added to the list.
“Why don’t we follow the money flows? Why don’t we seriously go
after those people to combat impunity?” he asked.
“We are tired to write those reports after reports and hear the
same complaints from the same victims,” he said.
“States today cannot say ‘We didn’t know’.”