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Chris Noltekhulmann

Momar is a young immigrant who came to Europe on a small boat to seek a new life. This image reflects his dreams of a new beginning and the dangerous ocean passage he took to make his dreams reality.

In 2015, 1.3 million migrants applied for asylum in Europe, the largest influx of migrants since World War II. While most were refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war, there were also large numbers of Afghan, Iraqi, Eritrean, Nigerian, and Balkan migrants escaping violence or seeking an improved standard of living. In response to the increased refugee flows, many European countries implemented stricter border and immigration controls. During the COVID-19 pandemic, further migration controls forced migrants to use more dangerous maritime routes. In 2021, at least 3,000 people died or went missing while trying to reach European shores, almost double the numbers in 2020.  Crossings on the perilous Eastern Mediterranean route increased by more than 85 per cent in the first half of 2022.

Despite international human rights laws protecting individuals who are forced to flee their homes from being returned to countries where they will likely face persecution, border and law enforcement officials in some European countries have been summarily returning migrants and, in some cases, refusing to rescue migrants in peril on the high seas. In 2021, the United Nations Human Rights Committee found Italy responsible for the deaths of more than 200 migrants and refugees who died when their boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea, while the Italian coast guard refused to answer their calls for help.