Geneva, Dec 23 (IANS/AKI) A total of 5,000 boat migrants drowned in the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe this year, the highest annual total yet, the United Nations said on Friday.
The latest figures, released by the UN’s refugee agency, include 100 deaths reported on Thursday after two rubber dinghies sank off the coast of Italy.
This is the worst annual death toll ever seen, the agency said.
Just under 3,800 migrants died in the Mediterranean in 2015, according the International Organisation for Migration (IOM)
An average of 14 people are drowning in the Mediterranean every day this year despite the overall number of people making the crossing declining, according to the UN.
UNHCR spokesman William Spindler said the increase in deaths was “alarming” and the smugglers’ practice of sending thousands of migrants off at the same time made it difficult for rescuers of save them all.
The sharp increase in drownings this year was due to bad weather, ever-flimsier, overladen boats and tactics to avoid detection, according to the UN.
Europe should organise legal ways for refugees to find safety, UNHCR said.
Most of the migrants have perished on the dangerous crossing from North Africa to Italy after the shorter crossing from Turkey to Greece was closed off earlier this year under a controversial deal between Ankara and the European Union.
Almost 360,000 migrants entered Europe by sea this year, mostly arriving in Italy and Greece, according to the IOM.
Last year, when over a million people crossed the Mediterranean, 3,771 people drowned, UN figures showed.