The number of people crossing European borders and applying for asylum has dropped but the hundreds of deaths en route and civil society’s halted rescue attempts have been flagged by the EU’s agency for human rights.

An estimated 2,275 people died or went missing in the Mediterranean last year, an average of more than six people every day, according to a new report by FRA, the Fundamental Rights Agency.

The numbers of deaths and missing people trying to reach Spain alone increased by 288%, up from 202 in 2017 to 784 people in 2018.

Read: EU asylum applications rise in January EU asylum applications rise in January

The journeys people chose to undertake to reach the EU were as dangerous as ever, mainly as a result of a reduction in overall search and rescue capacity, it says.

Many NGOs and other private entities stopped their search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean due to the trend of criminalising such missions, according to the agency.

FRA is aware of at least 13 cases in 2018 where rescue vessels were not immediately allowed to dock, leaving more than 2,220 migrants and refugees, including children, stranded on board, often for more than a week in bad weather, under poor health conditions and running out of drinking water and food before being allowed to disembark.

In its report, FRA flags vessels that were not immediately allowed to disembark migrants, including seven that eventually landed in Malta. These included the NGO vessel Lifeline with 235 people on board and the Aquarius, which had 140 people on board in August and another 60 in September.

Read: Fourth largest amount of asylum seekers per capita in Malta

About 150,000 people crossed the EU’s external borders irregularly last year, the lowest number in five years. Asylum applications also fell for the third year in a row.

However, FRA has noted that the drop in new arrivals did not lead to a decrease in fundamental rights concerns.

Apart from people dying en route and leaving migrants on board for longer than necessary there were reports of migrants, including children, being mistreated at border crossings and even refused entry unlawfully.

Violence and hate speech towards migrants remained an issue in Europe, with a high number of attacks being reported by NGOs, the media and the police. Even so, hate crime was often largely invisible as many incidents went unreported, FRA remarked.

In some places, intolerance towards migrants grew and this was not helped by some politicians voicing anti-migrant statements, it added.

Fundamental rights

▪ The number of deaths of refugees and migrants attempting the journey to Europe remained high, with more than 2,275 fatalities.

▪ Rescue boats deployed by civil society organisations faced serious difficulties when trying to dock, considerably delaying the disembarkation of migrants and putting at risk their safety and physical integrity.

▪ Political hate speech and generalising statements insinuating that migrants are a threat to national security and culture contributed to a racist anti-migrant environment.

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