Irregular maritime migration to Europe, contrary to popular conceptions, is less an issue of migrant arrivals and is rather a challenge of humanitarian dimensions. With more than 20,000 lives lost in the Mediterranean, and more than 3,100 en route to the Canary Islands, the deaths on maritime migration routes to Europe have profound impacts on core values such as the inviolability of human dignity, not to mention on the tens of thousands of families in countries of origin, transit and destination affected by these losses. This right to dignity, as well as the rights to life and to asylum, are enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the European Union as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
This background paper provides context on the main maritime routes to Europe, describing the three main trans-Mediterranean routes in brief before describing key trends on the overseas route to the Canary Islands. Unless otherwise noted, the evidence provided throughout relies on data on arrivals from European authorities and IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix, interceptions at sea by Turkish and various North African government agencies, which are included in an annex to this document. The paper concludes with recommendations for policymakers and practitioners seeking to respond to this humanitarian crisis, as well as for journalists and academics seeking to cover this issue.
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