UNHCR: Mediterranean Death Toll in 2016 Worst We Have Seen

Geneva, – With just two months left in 2016, and despite a substantial drop in the number of migrants and refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean, the number of people losing their lives has witnessed a three-fold overall increase this year, and in one particular route by more than five-fold, the United Nations refugee agency said.

According to the agency, at least 3,740 lives are reported lost between January and October 2016 – just short of the 3,771 deaths reported for the whole of 2015. This high loss of life comes despite a large overall fall this year in the number of people seeking to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, according to the UN News Centre.

Last year at least 1,015,078 people made the crossing. This year so far, crossings stand at 327,800. “About half those who have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year have travelled from North Africa to Italy – a known more perilous route,” a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) William Spindler said, explaining one of the causes behind the rise.

He further said that other causes include people smugglers using lower-quality “vessels” – no more than flimsy inflatable rafts that often do not last the journey; and the changing tactics of smugglers, with mass embarkations of thousands of people at a time.

Such changes could be used to lower detecting risks but also make the work of rescuers much more difficult, according to UNHCR.

UNHCR official also underscored that the high death rate is a reminder of the importance of continuing and robust search and rescue capacities – without which the fatality rates would almost certainly be higher.

Source: Qatar News Agency