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UN: Migrant Deaths in Mediterranean Crossings Are Near 2015's Total

  • Lisa Schlein

FILE - Migrants try to pull a child out of the water as they wait to be rescued in the Mediterranean sea, north of Libya, Oct. 4, 2016.

FILE - Migrants try to pull a child out of the water as they wait to be rescued in the Mediterranean sea, north of Libya, Oct. 4, 2016.

The U.N. refugee agency on Tuesday reported that the number of deaths among refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea in 2016 was already close to the total for all of the previous year.

With two months remaining in 2016, the agency said, the death toll stands at 3,740, just 31 short of last year's total.

UNHCR spokesman William Spindler noted that the death rate is actually much higher this year, considering that only about a third as many people have tried to cross the sea in 2016.

The UNHCR said one in 88 people crossing the Mediterranean Sea in 2016 was likely to die, compared with one death for every 269 arrivals last year. It said the death rate was even higher on the central Mediterranean route between Libya and Italy, where one death was recorded for every 47 arrivals.

Spindler said the route from North Africa to Italy is longer and more perilous than that between Turkey and Greece. He told VOA more refugees and migrants were losing their lives because smugglers were changing their business practices.

"They seem to be sending large numbers of embarkations as opposed to one by one," he said. "Smuggling has become a big business. It is being done almost on an industrial scale. So now they send several boats at the same time, and that puts rescue services in difficulty because they need to rescue several thousand people on several hundred boats."

Spindler said the dangers also were greater because smugglers increasingly have been using lower-quality vessels. He said people had been set adrift in flimsy inflatable rafts that often did not last the journey.

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