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2016 deadliest year for refugees crossing central Mediterranean: UN



Refugees, primarily from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan are helped by volunteers as they disembark boats near Scala, on the island of Lesbos, Greece. (UNICEF)

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has marked 2016 as the deadliest year to date for refugees who venture the perilous North Africa-Italy route to reach Europe.

“So far this year, one person has died for every 42 crossing from North Africa to Italy, compared to one in every 52 last year. This makes 2016 to date the deadliest year on record in the central Mediterranean,” said UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler in a statement during a press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, on Friday.

He added that the likelihood of losing life on the treacherous Libya-Italy route are “ten times” greater than when sailing from Turkey to Greece.

The coasts of Libya have turned to a launch pad for people seeking to reach Europe. The unsafe rubber boats that carry hundreds of refugees often capsize off Libya, especially near its western coast.

Human traffickers have taken advantage of the chaos gripping Libya since the 2011 to boost their lucrative business.

This file photo taken on May 24, 2016 shows refugees during a rescue operation at sea off the Libyan coast. (AFP)

According to the UNHCR, since last year’s tragic death of Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi, who drowned near Turkish shores while trying to reach Europe with his family, 4,176 other people have lost their lives or gone missing in the Mediterranean. This makes an average of 11 men, women and children, drowning every day during the last 12 months.

Spindler went on to say that a total of 281,740 people had made the dangerous crossing to Europe over the first eight months of this year, adding that the number of refugees arriving in Greece from Turkey had dropped greatly from 67,000 in January to 3,437 in August after the implementation of the EU-Turkey refugee deal.

He also said that the number of people arriving in Italy had remained relatively constant, with some 115,000 asylum seekers stepping foot on the Italian soil as of the end of August, compared to 116,000 over the same period last year.

A man and his daughter wait to receive food aboard a rescue ship on May 25, 2016, a day after a rescue operation of refugees off the Libyan coast. (AFP)

“These numbers highlight the urgent need for states to increase pathways for admission of refugees, such as resettlement, private sponsorship, family reunification and student scholarship schemes, among others, so they do not have to resort to dangerous journeys and the use of smugglers,” Spindler added.

Europe is facing an unprecedented influx of refugees, most of whom are fleeing conflict-ridden zones in Africa and the Middle East, particularly Syria. The conflicts they are fleeing are usually instigated by the very same European and non-European countries they seek to finally settle in.

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