December 23, 2016 10:32 am
Updated: December 23, 2016 10:34 am

Record 5,000 migrants believed to have drowned trying to cross Mediterranean Sea in 2016, agencies say

Wrecked boats and thousands of lifejackets, used by refugees and migrants during their journey across the Aegean Sea, lie in a dump in Mithimna, Greece on February 19, 2016.

Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images
A A

GENEVA – A record 5,000 migrants are believed to have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea this year, following two shipwrecks on Thursday in which some 100 people, mainly West Africans, were feared dead, aid agencies said on Friday.

Two overcrowded inflatable dinghies capsized in the Strait of Sicily after leaving Libya for Italy, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said.

Story continues below

“Those two incidents together appear to be the numbers that would bring this year’s total up to over to 5,000 (deaths), which is a new high that we have reported during this crisis,” IOM spokesman Joel Millman told a Geneva briefing.

READ MORE: Nearly 340 migrants dead or missing in multiple Mediterranean shipwrecks, IOM says

The Italian coast guard rescued survivors and had recovered eight bodies so far, he said. IOM staff were interviewing survivors brought to Trapani, Italy, he added.

Just under 3,800 migrants perished at sea during all of 2015, according to IOM figures.

UNHCR spokesman William Spindler said the “alarming increase” in deaths this year appeared to be related to bad weather, the declining quality of vessels used by smugglers, and their tactics to avoid detection.

“These (reasons also) include sending large numbers of embarkations simultaneously, which makes the work of rescuers more difficult,” he said

The UNHCR appealed to states to open up more legal pathways for admitting refugees. Resettlement programmes, private sponsorship, family reunification and student scholarships would help “so they do not have to resort to dangerous journeys and the use of smugglers”, Spindler said.

READ MORE: 2016 set to become deadliest year yet as Mediterranean death toll tops 3,700

IOM figures show 358,403 migrants and refugees had entered Europe by sea in 2016 up to and including Dec. 21, arriving mostly in Greece and Italy.

© 2016 Thomson Reuters

Report an error

Comments

Want to discuss? Please read our Commenting Policy first.