Western and Central Mediterranean situation

Anethe Cyuzuzo (left), 15, from Rwanda, and Irikungoma Bellaca (right), 16, from Burundi at Paysannat L school, in Mahama refugee camp, Kirehe, eastern Rwanda.
Anethe Cyuzuzo (left), 15, from Rwanda, and Irikungoma Bellaca (right), 16, from Burundi at Paysannat L school, in Mahama refugee camp, Kirehe, eastern Rwanda. © UNHCR/Georgina Goodwin
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Global Appeal 2023



Central Mediterranean Route 

Western Mediterranean Route 

North-west Africa Maritime Route 

Year 2021 

Jan-Sept 2022 

Year 2021 



Year 2021 

















Sea arrivals*** 







Dead and missing**** 








*Departures represent the total arrivals in Europe (Italy, Malta and Spain) and disembarkation in the North and West African countries (Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia).
**Disembarkations in North and West African countries (Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia and Western Sahara).
***Sea arrivals based on data from country of arrival.
****Dead and missing data (UNHCR). 

Central Mediterranean Route: Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Italy and Malta.
Western Mediterranean Route: Algeria, Morocco and Spain (not including the Canary Islands).
North-west Africa Maritime Route: Mauritania, Western Sahara, Morocco and the Canary Islands – excluding the rest of Spain. 


2023 situation overview 

As Member States of the African Union (AU) and the European Union (EU) pursue a new phase in their partnership under a joint vision on cooperation for 2030 announced in February 2022, the suffering and loss of life continues unabated for refugees and migrants travelling in mixed movements from East, Central and West Africa to North Africa and – for some – to Europe’s shores. The number of who perished, were reported missing, or who endured unspeakable violations of their human rights in 2021 and 2022 bears witness to this very public and sustained tragedy, with no end in sight. And while public and media attention have concentrated on sea movements from North and West Africa to Italy, Malta and Spain, there was less focus on movements across the Sahara which also produced a devastating human toll. Similarly, much less attention and fewer resources are channelled towards the equally important south-to-south mixed movements, i.e. movements within Africa, which present similar protection risks.  


In 2022, deteriorating security, conflicts and climatic factors caused new internal and cross-border displacement in the Sahel region and in the East and Horn of Africa. The numbers of internally displaced people (IDPs) grew rapidly in several sub-Saharan regions. In Mali, the number of IDPs doubled in two years. In Burkina Faso, the IDP population was estimated by the Government at 1.7 million as of 30 September 2022. Spillover from the Sahel crisis saw an estimated 8,500 Burkinabé nationals arrive in Bénin, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and Togo between April 2021 and July 2022, where further onward movement to coastal countries of West and North Africa may create more tragedy. In Ethiopia, 1.37 million people have been displaced from the western part of Tigray region since November 2020, while drought and conflict had displaced 1.233 million people within Somalia as of August 2022. Sudan continues to host 1.147 million refugees and asylum-seekers as well as 3.7 million IDPs (500,000 have been displaced since July 2021).  


Many people in need of international protection in sub-Saharan regions went to Libya in 2022, transiting through countries such as Chad, Egypt, Niger and Sudan. Others arrived in Morocco and Tunisia by land, sea and air. In several transit and host countries, the presence of non-state armed groups and counter-terrorism operations by States limited the ability of UNHCR and partners to provide protection and assistance along key routes. Terrorism and cross-border and cross-regional criminality, including trafficking in persons, are gaining ground where fragile State systems and national rule of law capacities are ever more challenged to offer protection and social stability to their populations. In parallel, restrictions affecting freedom of movement aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19 have been relaxed in some countries along the routes allowing for increased mobility. However, a lack of due process and oversight on asylum and migration management have led to returns of refugees and migrants in adverse circumstances to some countries of origin, in particular to Ethiopia. Collective expulsions without due process or protection safeguards from some States have also continued in considerable numbers.  


In order to save lives and ensure access to protection and durable solutions, UNHCR continued the evacuations of vulnerable refugees and asylum-seekers in Libya to Niger and Rwanda through the Emergency Transit Mechanisms (ETM), as well as the humanitarian corridor to Italy. From January to September 2022, 179 vulnerable individuals departed to Niger and 455 to Rwanda, where resettlement to a third country is the main solution available. UNHCR will advocate for increased resettlement quotas from the ETMs to enable solutions to keep pace with evacuations, as well as for increased resettlement places directly from Libya.  


Irregular sea movements from Libya and Tunisia are expected to increase in 2023, while maritime movements from North-west Africa may also increase due to insufficient access to regular, safe and orderly pathways. This trend will be fed by increasing numbers of asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants arriving in North Africa in 2023 and a significant number will again attempt to reach Europe. Increasing numbers of North African nationals (notably Egyptians, Moroccans and Tunisians) are also expected to attempt this perilous crossing.  


From January to September 2022, irregular sea arrivals to Italy, Malta, and Spain along the Central and Western Mediterranean routes as well as the North-west Africa maritime route numbered 80,437. This represents a 19% increase compared with the same period in 2021. Arrivals to Italy alone increased by 49% in 2022, while arrivals to Spain decreased by 22% (57% of arrivals recorded in Spain in the first nine months of 2022 were in the Canary Islands). Only 283 people had arrived in Malta as of September 2022. 


In the first nine months of 2022, 1,157 people are known to have lost their lives or gone missing in the Mediterranean Sea, with an additional estimated 368 victims along the North-west Africa maritime route. This adds to the toll of 1,963 people reported dead or missing at sea along the Central and Western Mediterranean Sea in 2021.  


In 2022, as of the end of September, 36,376 people had been disembarked in Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Mauritania. This represents respective decreases of 34% in Libya and Algeria, and a 7% increase in Tunisia compared to the same period in 2021. UNHCR continues to advocate that Libya is not place of safety for the purpose of disembarkation following rescue at sea.  


In 2023, UNHCR will maintain strong engagement and support to the AU-EU-UN Tripartite Taskforce in common efforts to save and protect the lives of refugees and migrants along the mixed movements routes and inside Libya. More broadly, the Office will work with regional structures and diplomatic missions on priorities related to the management of mixed movements in the context of the Khartoum and Rabat processes, under the Joint Valletta Action Plan.  


African States, the African Union and Regional Economic Communities may make modest advances with free movement regimes, but the gap between policy declaration and implementation will likely persist. Comprehensive action is urgently needed on the part of States to lead the humanitarian development-linked responses to the effective management of mixed movements in order to address the root causes of displacement. 


In North Africa, UNHCR will strengthen efforts to secure access to, and identify people with, international protection needs in the context of mixed movements. It will increase outreach and communication with communities on the risks associated with dangerous onward journeys and advise on access to protection and assistance already available where people are. UNHCR will promote viable alternatives to onward dangerous journeys, including through socioeconomic inclusion, access to livelihood opportunities and the use of safe and legal pathways. The Office will also strengthen partnerships with IOM and other key organizations to enhance data and analysis of protection needs in mixed movements and inform operational responses.  


In West and Central Africa, UNHCR will reinforce national protection and asylum systems in coastal countries to provide meaningful alternatives to dangerous onward movements. It will strengthen community-based identification and referral mechanisms along key routes and address basic needs in countries of asylum hosting large numbers of displaced populations, such as Chad. It will also continue its contribution to the inter-agency protection monitoring Project 21 covering Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Mali and Niger to generate joint protection analyses and document needs, gaps and risks, and inform protection programming in areas affected by conflict and forced displacement.  


In the East and Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes, UNHCR will strive to preserve and strengthen asylum space and safeguard access to quality registration and asylum procedures and protection in line with international standards, noting that many refugees highlight delays in registration and RSD procedures as one of the key factors precipitating onward movements. The Office will strengthen movement monitoring and service provision along the routes, with a particular emphasis on children, women and youth, and will support States to identify and address weaknesses in procedure and practice which contribute to the root causes of onward movement. UNHCR will also strengthen collaboration with Regional Economic Communities, governments, and key stakeholders to reinforce and maximize protection capacities, save lives and to manage and respond to mixed movements. In this regard, UNHCR will support the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) with the development of an IGAD Common Refugee Management Policy to harmonize refugee protection and assistance frameworks across IGAD member states. In Sudan, UNHCR will contribute to strengthening durable solutions coordination structures within and between the UN, NGOs, and the Government, including by setting up a dedicated a Durable Solutions Unit within the Resident Coordinator’s Office and revamping the Durable Solutions Working Group. The region will continue to expand access to resettlement and complementary pathways opportunities, focusing on countries with high numbers of reported incidents of irregular movements. UNHCR will also work closely with resettlement countries to address their post-submissions inventories representing tens of thousands of refugees in protracted situations who are pending in the resettlement pipeline for years and who may opt for dangerous onwards journeys in the absence of immediate solutions. 


In Europe, UNHCR will engage with the European Commission, Member States, the European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA) and other relevant actors to work towards greater solidarity and responsibility-sharing mechanisms in Europe. UNHCR will advocate for States to: (i) meet their maritime search and rescue responsibilities; (ii) work towards establishing effective, protection-sensitive and context-specific management of mixed movements; (iii) support alternatives to dangerous irregular movements through additional resettlement places and complementary safe legal pathways, including family reunification, labour and education mobility.  


More broadly, UNHCR will adapt its cross-regional mixed movement strategy as required and will mobilize resources and facilitate coordination for its implementation. UNHCR will strengthen collaboration with IOM, in light of the new Framework of Engagement, and other partners to enhance data collection and analysis on both land and sea, and reinforce communication and advocacy related to protection of refugees and other people of concern. UNHCR in coordination with IOM will continue to engage with national government authorities to facilitate safe, dignified and legal returns for those not in need of international protection or without other grounds for legal stay in receiving countries. Working with partners, UNHCR will continue to analyse the drivers and risks of dangerous journeys and onward movements and will promote access to durable solutions, in line with the Global Compact on Refugees and UNHCR’s “Three year strategy on resettlement and complementary pathways”. Special renewed emphasis will be placed on advocacy with national authorities to increase access to resettlement and to explore and chart more and innovative avenues to complementary legal pathways, including through family reunification, education and labour mobility. Priority will also be placed on the protection of children and youth against risks associated with irregular movement.  


A combined approach of outreach to the communities along the routes including information-sharing and awareness-raising, and programmatic interventions, is needed along key routes to effectively address protection and solutions challenges within mixed movements. Intermediary cities and local authorities along these key routes will become important protection and solution partners as UNHCR develops its Cities #WithRefugees initiative, in cooperation with United Cites and Local Governments, the Mixed Migration Centre, the International Centre for Migration Policy Development, and other partners. 

Global Report 2021

Arrivals (refugees and migrants)

In 2021, Europe received 29% more arrivals via the Mediterranean and north-western African maritime routes than in 2020. Arrivals remained stable in Spain but decreased by 43% in Greece. In 2021, some 2,000 people were known to have lost their lives or gone missing in the Mediterranean Sea, 41% more than in 2020. In addition, it is estimated that a further 1,153 people lost their lives or went missing along the north-western African maritime routes although the actual numbers are likely higher. 

123,000 arrivals:

  • Greece: 9,200
  • Spain: 43,000
  • Italy: 67,000
  • Malta: 800
  • Cyprus: 2,900

8% women, 16% children, 76% men 

In Cyprus, critical protection concerns in reception conditions were addressed through advocacy, daily interventions and the provision of core relief items (48 relief housing units, 20 tents, 500 camp beds and 11,000 blankets) to 6,000 beneficiaries, with particular focus on prevention and response to gender-based violence as well as unaccompanied and separated children’s needs, notably through a guide for the implementation of the best interest principle for children. UNHCR helped address the asylum backlog through support to national asylum systems.

In Greece, UNHCR supported COVID-19 prevention and response with screening, isolation and quarantine medical units near reception centres on the Aegean islands and Evros, and for new arrivals. UNHCR also transferred over 2,100 immunocompromised individuals from overcrowded island centres to safer accommodation and strengthened water and sanitation capacity in order to improve hygiene conditions. Essential UNHCR interventions on child protection, gender-based violence and protection of persons with specific needs were implemented, with over 2,000 best interest assessments conducted on unaccompanied and separated children and over 370 adolescents enrolled in dedicated support programmes. In addition, some 650 gender-based violence survivors received both psychosocial and legal support. In the eastern Aegean islands, UNHCR promoted the creation of protection hubs, to facilitate access to protection services. Regular and thematic monitoring of reception conditions on the islands and on the mainland, as well as targeted interventions such as distribution of core relief items, addressed important gaps.

In Italy, UNHCR contributed to addressing obstacles to integration and limited access to reliable information, through support to a national system for identification and referral of people with specific needs and outreach activities in formal and informal settlements. Counselling and communication with communities were strengthened with the Numero Verde toll-free number and the JumaMap multilingual information portal that provided information on services and COVID-19. UNHCR promoted its integration initiatives, a one-stop shop for services and documentation and its “Welcome” job inclusion project with authorities; and began implementation of its community matching programme. 

In Malta, UNHCR supported asylum authorities to ensure access to territory and asylum procedures, while monitoring reception conditions and alternatives to detention. Efforts were made to identify and respond to the specific needs of people of concern. UNHCR engaged with integration stakeholders, including in employment and education and ran workshops for women and men on gender-based violence, female genital mutilation, and sexual health. UNHCR also provided psychological and legal support on gender-based violence to 31 people of concern.

In Spain, in the Canary Islands, Ceuta and Melilla, efforts were enhanced to focus on identification of protection needs among arrivals, including children and persons with special needs, and to support authorities in devising improved mechanisms to guarantee access to the asylum procedure. UNHCR advocated for fast and fair quality asylum procedures, support to the resettlement programme, and the establishment of a community sponsorship programme. UNHCR sought to enhance refugees’ participation through volunteer, empowerment and training programmes. 

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Countries affected