The continued fighting and unrest In the Middle East and east Africa has seen a humanitarian crisis of huge magnitude unfold in the past few years with record numbers of people crossing the Mediterranean by boats, often abandoned by crew (in ‘ghost ships’), leading to a vast number of deaths by drowning. While the majority seek European shores such as Italy and Malta, many have also crossed the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden to Yemen; and others have sought to cross the Bay of Bengal.

A boat carrying refugees in the Mediterranean Photo: UNHCR/L.Boldrini

Estimates put the number of mixed movements by sea in Europe alone during 2014 at more than 218,000, with more than 3,500 deaths. These figures were announced at a High-Level Meeting to Address Unsafe Mixed Migration by Sea hosted at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) headquarters in London 4-5 March 2015.

At this meeting the IMO Secretary-General Koji Sekimizu expressed his concern that the issue of mixed migration by sea,has, in recent years, reached epidemic proportions, to the extent where the whole system for coping with such migrants is being stretched up to, and sometimes beyond, its breaking point. At the close of the meeting, he reiterated the importance of a collective approach to the issue.