More than 5,000 refugees have perished while attempting to cross the Mediterranean this year, a new record as Europe’s migrants crisis continues.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) revealed the figure after 100 mainly West African migrants were thought to have drowned while trying to make the treacherous crossing last week. The Italian Coastguard launched rescue operations after two dinghies capsized in the Central Mediterranean Sea, but were only able to save fewer than half of those on board the vessels, which were carrying many women and children.
In a statement, the UNHCR said: “This situation highlights the urgent need for [EU] states to increase pathways for admission of refugees, such as resettlement, private sponsorship, family reunification and student scholarship schemes, among others, so they do not have to resort to dangerous journeys and the use of smugglers.”
Nearly 3,800 migrants lost their lives attempting to reach the southern coast of Europe in 2015. The UNHCR attributed this year’s much higher number to multiple causes, including the declining quality of boats used by people smugglers, a change in the tactics of traffickers to avoid detection, and unpredictable weather conditions.
On average, 14 people have died while attempting to make the crossing every day this year. UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler said smugglers’ emerging tendency to send thousands of migrants across the water simultaneously has made it more difficult for rescuers to reach those who get into trouble.
According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), nearly 360,000 migrants entered Europe by sea this year, typically arriving in either Greece or Italy. The agency, which monitors the flow of migrants worldwide, said it is likely that many more refugee deaths have gone unreported, partly as a result of the fact that data collection is challenging on a number of routes, such as those from North Africa to the southern coast of Spain.
“We are seeing more migrants crossing this winter,” IOM spokesperson Flavio Di Giacomo commented.
“This trend confirms the fact that conditions in Libya are becoming increasingly dangerous for migrants, who are often trying to flee the country in order to save their lives.
“Many people have told us that they didn’t want to come to Europe when they left their country of origin. For many of them the destination country was Libya. But what they found there was abuse and violence.”
Separately, police in Serbia have arrested three men on suspicion of people smuggling after nearly 80 migrants were discovered in hidden in the back of cargo vehicles. The arrests come after UNHCR warned that thousands of migrants are trapped in refugee camps in Serbia as a result of the closure of the so-called Balkan Route, many of whom are paying people smugglers to get to Western Europe.