Spain Migrants
Spain Migrants

The U.N. refugee agency is calling for "urgent" action from European countries to help reduce the number of deaths among migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says about 800 migrants have died making the journey so far this year, compared to a total of 600 deaths in all of 2013.

In a statement, the agency said 260 people had died in the past 10 days, mostly by drowning or suffocation.

Agency chief Antonio Guterres said the recent deaths are evidence that the crisis is intensifying.  He urged European governments to strengthen rescue operations and provide quick access to asylum procedures, and offer legal alternatives to dangerous sea crossings. 

Tens of thousands of migrants, mostly from Africa and the Middle East, attempt the journey across the Mediterranean each year.  Most are trying to escape from war, poverty or political turmoil.

The UNHCR says more than 75,000 refugees and migrants have arrived so far this year, the majority of them in Italy. 

The agency says nearly 11,000 of this year's migrants are children, more than half of them from Eritrea.

The plight of migrants gained heightened attention last year after a boat filled with asylum seekers sank near the Italian island of Lampedusa, killing at last 359 people. The incident prompted Italy to step up patrols for migrants.