News ID: 152418
Published: 0725 GMT May 31, 2016

UN: Mediterranean migrant fatalities top 2,500 this year

UN: Mediterranean migrant fatalities top 2,500 this year

More than 2,500 people have died trying to make the journey across the Mediterranean to Europe so far in 2016, the UN has said, a sharp jump from the same period last year.

At the same time about 204,000 migrants and refugees have crossed the Mediterranean since January, a figure that has also climbed acutely.

In the past week alone, at least 880 people have died in a series of shipwrecks, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said, citing information from survivors who made it to Italy, the Guardian.

“I emphasize that that figure is a conservative estimate,” the UNHCR spokesman William Spindler told reporters on Tuesday.

Spindler warned that “2016 is proving to be particularly deadly”, saying that during the first five months of 2015, the death toll stood at 1,855, while the number during the same period in 2014 was 57.

The number of arrivals is more than double the nearly 92,000 who landed on the continent’s shores during the first five months of 2015, according to the International Organization for Migration, although more than 1 million made the trip by the end of last year.

Three-quarters of those who have arrived in Europe so far in 2016 landed in Greece before the end of March – most of them refugees fleeing conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan. Arrivals to Greece, however, fell sharply after the EU entered a controversial deal in March with Turkey to stem the flow of migrants.

Meanwhile, 46,714 people have arrived in Italy since the beginning of the year, about the same number as during the first five months of 2015, UNHCR said.

Counting all routes across the Mediterranean, Spindler said the odds of dying while trying to cross to Europe were now one in 81.

The route between Libya and Italy, which is far longer than the one between Turkey and Greece, has proven particularly deadly, with 2,119 of all deaths registered this year along that route. Nearly all of those travelling on this route are from sub-Saharan Africa, particularly Nigeria and Gambia, as well as Somalia and Eritrea.

Spindler warned that the risk of dying on that route was now one in 23.

The boats taking this route tend to be far more crowded, he explained, often carrying 600 or more passengers and sometimes being towed by larger fishing boats, which Spindler said was very dangerous.

A number of small children reportedly drowned in the boat accidents over the past week, as thousands continue to attempt the sea crossing to Europe in rickety vessels from the Middle East and Africa. UNHCR described desperate situations at the weekend, with 47 people still missing after one incident where a raft carrying 125 people from Libya deflated.

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