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Refugee deaths in Mediterranean exceed 5,000 mark: UN

23 December 2016 22:08

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More than 5,000 refugees have lost their lives attempting to cross the Mediterranean in 2016, the UN says.

Two more boats capsized on the way to Europe on Thursday.

William Spindler, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), quoted Italy’s Coast Guard officials as saying that about 100 people drowned as the two rubber boats overturned in the Mediterranean.

“These latest tragedies bring the number of casualties in the Mediterranean this year to over 5,000. This is the worst annual death toll ever seen,” the UN official said.

The alarming surge, which surpassed the death toll of 3,771 for 2015, comes despite a considerable decline in the number of refugees crossing the Mediterranean in 2016.

The International Organization for Migration said on Friday that over a million people had crossed the Mediterranean and reached Europe in 2015, but crossings this year were fewer than 360,000.

Refugees wrapped in survival foil blankets rest aboard a vessel in the Mediterranean Sea before arriving in Italy, November 7, 2016. They were rescued off the Libyan coast. (Photo by AFP)

The UNHCR said the death toll had risen due to the increasing use of low-quality boats in transporting the refugees by smugglers who overload the vessels with people in an attempt to raise their earnings.

“An average of 14 people have died every day in the Mediterranean Sea during 2016,” Spindler said.

Europe has been facing an unprecedented influx of refugees, who are fleeing conflict-ridden zones in North Africa and the Middle East, particularly Syria.

Many blame support by some Western countries for the militants operating in the Middle East for increased violence, which in turn forces the departure of more people from their home countries.

The number of refugees heading to Europe has, however, declined as the European Union in March signed a controversial deal with Turkey aimed at stemming the flow of refugees into the continent by forcing those deported from the EU to either be located in Turkey or go back to the original country of departure.

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