Western and Central Mediterranean situation

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. 

Global Appeal 2022

Western and Central Mediterranean Situation

2022 Population planning figures

January - October 2021

Central Mediterranean

Western Mediterranean

Canary Route









Sea arrivals***




Dead and missing****




Central Mediterranean - Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Italy and Malta.

Western Mediterranean - Algeria, Morocco and Spain (not including Canary Islands).

Canary Route - Canary Islands (excluding the rest of Spain).

*Departures represent the total of sea arrivals in Europe (Italy, Malta and Spain). 

**Disembarkations in North African countries (Algeria, Libya and Tunisia).

***Sea arrivals based on data from country of arrival.

****Dead an missing data from IOM - Missing Migrants Project.

2022 Situation overview

Forced displacement and onward movements within and across sub-Saharan regions and towards North Africa, Italy, Malta, and Spain increased steeply in 2021. This was due to insecurity in the Sahel, the Lake Chad Basin, Ethiopia’s Tigray region, Sudan’s Darfur region, and parts of South Sudan, combined with the pandemic’s impact on livelihoods, and smuggling routes emerging to evade reinforced border controls. Climatic hazards, poor living conditions in countries of first asylum, and limited inclusion in countries along the routes exacerbated these trends, which will persist in 2022.

2021 saw a surge in people making dangerous journeys across the Central Mediterranean from Libya, Tunisia and to a lesser extent Algeria and Egypt — an 80% increase in the first ten months of the year over the same period of 2020. By the end of October, over 44,000 people had arrived in Italy and Malta and 27,500 had been disembarked in Libya, not a place of safety, as well as some 14,000 in Tunisia. Sea departures in the Western Mediterranean, and through the routes to Spain’s Canary Islands, also increased, with 33,700 arrivals by the end of October. Thousands more were rescued or intercepted and disembarked in Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco and Senegal. Overall, UNHCR estimates that some 22.5%* of people arriving in Spain, Italy and Malta through these routes are of concern to UNHCR. The relatively low figure is due to the higher number of nationals from north African countries — such as Tunisia — reaching Italy.

Between January and October 2021, at least 898 people died or went missing en route to the Canary Islands, compared to 849 in all of 2020. 1,535 died or went missing in the central and western Mediterranean, compared to 1,319 in all of 2020. UNHCR expects these trends of increased departures, arrivals and disembarkations will continue in 2022. Even greater numbers are estimated to have died on land routes — in the desert and remote border areas, and at the hands of human traffickers. Some 1,750 people may have died along these land routes in 2018-2019, averaging 72 per month. At least 85 deaths occurred along land routes in 2020, including 30 people killed by traffickers in Mizdah, Libya.

In 2022, UNHCR will strengthen engagement with States, inter-agency partners, and humanitarian and development stakeholders to save lives and mitigate the risks of dangerous journeys. Through its leadership role in Mixed Movement Task Forces and Protection Working Groups in the West, East and Horn of Africa, as well as North Africa, UNHCR will work with partners to bolster identification and protection responses and services, including for victims of trafficking. UNHCR will advocate for increased rescue-at-sea capacity involving States, commercial shipowners, and private/NGO boats, and for a regional arrangement for disembarking and processing rescued people in places of safety.

The Office of the Special Envoy for the Central and Western Mediterranean will collaborate with IOM and other partners on information, reporting and advocacy tools, part of UNHCR’s overarching objective to forge greater momentum on adapted protection and solutions for refugees and migrants within the framework of the Valletta Plan of Action – the Khartoum and Rabat Processes – and the EU-AU continent-to-continent partnership.  

UNHCR will continue supporting national asylum authorities in West and Central Africa to assist forcibly displaced people travelling in mixed movements and to prevent human trafficking. As part of this effort, UNHCR will add Cameroon and the Central African Republic to the Project 21 inter-agency protection monitoring and analysis system, alongside Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Niger and Nigeria. It will continue rolling out the “Live Learn and Participate” project to bolster protection of children and youth against the risks associated with irregular movements in dangerous journeys. UNHCR will also support the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in the initiative to adopt a model asylum law and the ECOWAS refugee protection and solutions framework across the region. These efforts will seek to leverage the impetus of the Roadmap for Solutions for Ivorian refugees, which requires robust financial support from the international community, particularly in Côte d’Ivoire and neighboring asylum states.  

In the East and Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes, UNHCR will operationalize the outcomes from the 2021 East African Community Regional Protection Dialogue to create sustainable protection and solutions. Building on the IGAD Support Platform on the Solutions Initiative for the displacement situation in South Sudan and Sudan, UNHCR will improve protection and solutions standards throughout the region, including by giving refugees legal pathways towards work and livelihoods in Sudan. UNHCR will offer every support to the Government and people of Ethiopia and work with the international community to find urgent and permanent solutions to forced displacement in Tigray, and in hosting and fostering the inclusion and participation in society of one of the world’s largest refugee populations.

In North Africa, UNHCR will continue its engagement with the League of Arab States to carry forward the “Final recommendations on international protection in mixed movements in the Central Mediterranean”. UNHCR will work with IOM and other UN and NGO partners to increase data collection and analysis, as well as information-sharing on mixed movements, in a whole-of-society approach to protection and solutions for refugees and migrants. This includes engaging with development partners to inform evidence-based policymaking and underpin the development of medium- to long-term livelihoods strategies and solutions. UNHCR will undertake outreach, communication with communities, and public awareness campaigns on the risks associated with irregular movements in dangerous journeys. UNHCR will advocate for inclusive and shock-responsive social protection systems, building on the positive examples of several North African states that have included people of concern in national systems and development plans during the pandemic.

UNHCR will promote the enhanced use of the Emergency Transit Mechanisms (ETMs) in Rwanda and Niger for asylum-seekers and refugees evacuated from Libya, as well as use of humanitarian corridors to Italy and elsewhere. This will be achieved by advocating for more resettlement places and complementary pathways, accelerating all aspects of processing, notably remote processing by resettlement states, and expanding the ETMs’ geographical coverage to countries along the routes.

UNHCR will work to increase access to resettlement and complementary legal pathways, including family reunification, and prioritize the protection of children and youth against the risks associated with irregular movement in dangerous journeys. It will work on the ground with States and partners to strengthen alternative care and support structures for children and youth, increasing their access to education, professional training and livelihood opportunities.

UNHCR will invest in high visibility communication with communities, notably “Telling the real story”, to advise people of specific risks on routes and in specific areas and guide them to the nearest protection and assistance services.

More broadly, UNHCR will continue to offer its good offices and advice to States and IOM to facilitate safe, dignified and legal return programmes for those not in need of international protection or without other grounds for legal stay in receiving countries.

*Estimate based on first instance refugee status decisions as per the Geneva Convention 1951 and Subsidiary Protection Status as published by Eurostat for the period January-June 2021. It does not include appeals. Nationality data for arrivals to Spain and the Canary Islands is unavailable. A decreasing trend in this percentage is due to arrivals of Tunisians and to a lesser extent Egyptians and Moroccans, and Bangladeshis in Italy. 

See more information on Western and Central Mediterranean situation page.
2022 Budget

Source: 2022 budget as approved by the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner’s Programme at its 72nd session in October 2021.

Countries affected