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Mediterranean Death Toll Soars To All-Time High

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KUALA LUMPUR – The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is alarmed at the high death toll being seen this year among refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean.

Its spokesperson William Spindler said that short of two months from the end of 2016, the death toll is at least 3,740, fast surpassing last year’s 3,771.

“From one death for every 269 arrivals last year, in 2016 the likelihood of dying has spiralled to one in 88,” he was quoted as saying in an UNHCR statement.

On the Central Mediterranean route between Libya and Italy the likelihood of dying was even higher, at one death for every 47 arrivals, he said at a press briefing in Geneva, Tuesday.

Spindler said that the high loss of life occurred despite a large overall drop this year in the number of people seeking to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.

Last year at least 1,015,078 people made the crossing while this year so far, crossings stand at 327,800, he said.

Spindler noted that among the causes for the high number of deaths was because about half of those who have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year have travelled from North Africa to Italy, which is a more perilous route.

“People smugglers today often use lower-quality vessels – flimsy inflatable rafts that often do not last the journey. Several incidents also seem to be connected with travel during bad weather,” he said.

Spindler said smugglers’ change of tactics with the mass embarkations of thousands of people at a time, also made the work of rescuers harder.

The UNHCR urges all countries to do more in addressing the situation, even if ensuring functioning asylum systems remains a policy challenge for many countries.

“Significantly expanding the availability of regular pathways for refugees to reach safety needs much greater and urgent attention,” he said/

He added that such means included enhanced resettlement and humanitarian admissions, family reunification, private sponsorship, and humanitarian, student and work visas for refugees.

Spindler said that the high death rate is a reminder of the importance of continuing the robust search and rescue capacities, without which the fatality rates would almost certainly be higher.

He thanked governments and private entities, which on a daily basis, and often in difficult conditions, contributed to the important work of saving lives. – BERNAMA

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