2016 is set to be the deadliest year on record for deaths of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea, amid the world’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II.
It’s “the worst we’ve ever seen” even though far fewer people are attempting the dangerous crossing than last year, as William Spindler, spokesman for the U.N.’s refugee agency, told reporters.
“Last year at least 1,015,078 people made the crossing. This year so far, crossings stand at 327,800,” he said.
A total 3,740 people have perished since January in the Mediterranean on the boat journey to Europe.
The high loss of life comes despite a large overall fall this year in the number of people seeking to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, the UN refugee agency UNHCR stated.
This year so far, 327,800 people have undertaken the sea voyage, of whom one in 88 have died, compared to 1 in 269 in 2015 when at least 1,015,078 people made the crossing, according to UNHCR.
On the Central Mediterranean route between Libya and Italy the likelihood of dying was even higher, at one death for every 47 arrivals, UNHCR noted.
A surge in crossings to Italy from North Africa, lower-quality, flimsy inflatable rafts used by people-smugglers, crossings attempted in bad weather and mass embarkations lie behind this year’s dramatic leap in fatalities, the agency said.
UNHCR acknowledged “daily” efforts being made by Italy and other countries “often in difficult conditions” to save lives and the need for “continuing and robust search and rescue capacities”
But the agency urged nations to create more channels for migrants and asylum-seekers to enter Europe legally instead risking their lives aboard unsafe people-smuggling boats.