UN: '14 migrants die a day crossing Mediterranean Sea'

UN: '14 migrants die a day crossing Mediterranean Sea'
More than 5,000 people died in 2016 trying to reach Europe from Africa, the UN refugee agency said on Friday, as 'death boats' continue to leave war-torn Libya.
2 min read
24 December, 2016
UNHCR declared 2016 the deadliest year ever for migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean [AFP]

More than 5,000 migrants and refugees have perished trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach Europe, the UN said on Friday after two more deadly shipwrecks.

The latest incidents happened on Thursday when an estimated 100 people were feared to have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea after two rubber dinghies collapsed, the UN refugee agency said, citing reports from the Italian coastguard. 

"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 coastguard," UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler said.

Some 175 people from another dinghy and a wooden boat were rescued. Eight bodies were also recovered during the operations.

The UN spokesperson added that these incidents highlight the need to increase pathways for admission of refugees, including resettlement, private sponsorship, family reunification and student scholarship schemes.

This would reduce the temptation of migrants to make the dangerous crossing across the Mediterranean and the power of people smugglers.

The declining quality of the vessels used by people smugglers, the vagaries of the weather and the tactics used by them to avoid detection might be the root causes of the recent increase in deaths, he said.

"These include sending large numbers of embarkations simultaneously, which makes the work of rescuers more difficult."

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 said in a statement.

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 on Friday. 

Numbers began dropping dramatically following a March deal between Turkey and the European Union to stem the migrant tide towards the Greek islands.