Mediterranean migrant deaths in 2016 pass 5,000, says UN
GENEVA – Agence France-Presse
REUTERS photoThe number of migrants and refugees who have perished while trying to cross the Mediterranean this year has passed 5,000, the United Nations said Dec. 23 after two more deadly shipwrecks.
The latest incidents happened Dec. 22 when an estimated 100 people drowned in the Mediterranean Sea after two rubber dinghies collapsed, the U.N. refugee agency said, citing reports from the Italian Coast Guard.
“This is the worst annual death toll ever seen,” the UNHCR said in a statement.
In October, UNHCR declared 2016 the deadliest year ever for migrants trying to reach Europe on the Mediterranean route, when the fatality mark hit 3,800.
Deaths have surged this year because migrant smugglers are increasingly using poor quality vessels while also trying to pack more people on boats, possibly to raise profits, UNHCR has said.
“An average of 14 people have died every day in the Mediterranean Sea during 2016,” UNHCR.
In two separate incidents on Dec. 22 rubber dinghies collapsed and passengers fell into the sea, the Italian Coast Guard reported. The first dinghy was carrying between 120 and 140 people including many women and children. Only 63 people survived after the dinghy collapsed and passengers fell into the water. The second dinghy was carrying about 120 people and 80 were rescued by the Coast Guard.
The higher death rate has come despite a drop in the number of migrants crossing the sea this year compared to 2015.
Last year, more than a million people reached Europe via the Mediterranean, but crossings this year were below 360,000, the International Organisation for Migration said Dec. 23.
Numbers began dropping dramatically following a March deal between Turkey and the European Union to stem the migrant tide towards the Greek islands.