5,000 migrants died at sea this year: UN

24 December 2016

The UN said yesterday that a total of  5,000 boat migrants drowned in the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe this year, which was the highest annual total till date.

According to the latest figures, released by the UN's refugee agency, 100 deaths were reported on Thursday after two rubber dinghies sank off the coast of Italy.

The agency added that this was the worst annual death toll ever seen. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said that just under 3,800 migrants died in the Mediterranean in 2015.

According to the UN an average of 14 people were drowning in the Mediterranean every day this year even as the overall number of people making the crossing was declining.

UNHCR spokesman William Spindler termed the rising numbers as "alarming". He added that the smugglers' practice of sending thousands of migrants off at the same time made it difficult for rescuers of save them all.

According to the UN, the increase in drownings this year was due to bad weather, ever-flimsier, overladen boats and tactics to avoid detection.

Most of the migrants had perished on the dangerous crossing from North Africa to Italy after the closure of the shorter crossing from Turkey to Greece following a controversial  deal between Ankara and the EU.

The UN Refugee Agency said in a statement, "The causes for the alarming increase in deaths this year are multiple but appear to be related to the declining quality of the vessels used by people smugglers, the vagaries of the weather and the tactics used by smugglers to avoid detection by the authorities. These include sending large numbers of embarkations simultaneously, which makes the work of rescuers more difficult".

The International Organisation for Migration said, so far nearly  360,000 migrants had reached Europe by sea. More than 175,000 had arrived in Italy alone, a 19 per cent increase in crossings as against the same period last year.

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