In grainy photographs shot from a plane circling overhead, four people adrift in an iron boat in an expanse of the Mediterranean Sea wave their arms in distress.
It later emerges that the group – a 13-year-old boy, two men and a woman – are the only survivors of a shipwreck that they say killed the other 41 people they were travelling with.
The four survived by floating with inner tubes and lifejackets until they found another empty boat, likely from a previous migrant crossing, and clambered in. They spent several days drifting before being rescued.
A day after news of the tragedy emerged, migrants in the Tunisian city of Sfax prepared to make the same crossing.
One man, who had fled fighting in Sudan’s western region of Darfur, told BBC Arabic that he planned to seek asylum in Tunisia, but was ready to board a boat if this didn’t work. “I just survived a war, I have nothing to lose,” he said. Another, from Kenya, dreamed of a better life for his family in Europe.
If they go ahead with the journeys, the two men will join thousands of others who have risked their lives this year on what has been dubbed the world’s most dangerous migration route.
Experts told the BBC that badly designed and overcrowded boats, stormy weather, and gaps in international efforts were all factors in the danger – and one search-and-rescue NGO described the central Mediterranean as a “cemetery”.
European border agency Frontex says the central Mediterranean is the “most active route” into the European Union, with more than 89,000 detections reported by national authorities in the first seven months of 2023 – more than double last year, and the highest on record since 2017.
People making the journey set sail from the shores of North Africa, usually for Italy.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has recorded more than 1,800 migrant deaths in the central Mediterranean so far this year, compared to 1,400 for the whole of 2022.
Among the migrant shipwrecks this year was an overcrowded fishing vessel off the coast of Greece, which killed hundreds in one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the Mediterranean in recent years.
The IOM says there is strong evidence that many shipwrecks are “invisible”: unrecorded boats disappearing with no survivors, meaning the real death toll is likely to be much higher.
Source: BBC News