More than 2,500 people have died trying to make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to Europe so far in 2016, the U.N. said yesterday, a sharp jump from the same period last year. Some 204,000 migrants and refugees have crossed the Mediterranean to the continent since January, a figure that has climbed quickly.
In the past week alone, at least 880 people have died in a series of shipwrecks, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), citing information from survivors who made it to Italy. "I emphasize that that figure is a conservative estimate," UNHCR spokesman William Spindler told reporters.
A number of small children reportedly drowned in the series of boat accidents over the past week, as thousands continue to attempt the sea crossing to Europe in rickety vessels from the Middle East and Africa.
UNHCR described desperate scenes over the weekend, with 47 people still missing after one incident where a raft carrying 125 people from Libya deflated. Spindler warned that "2016 is proving to be particularly deadly," saying that during the first five months of 2015, the death toll stood at 1,855, while the number during the same period in 2014 was 57.
The number of arrivals is more than double the nearly 92,000 who landed on the continent's shores during the first five months of 2015, according to the International Organization for Migration, although more than one million made the trip by the end of last year.
Three quarters of those who have arrived in Europe so far in 2016 landed in Greece before the end of March -- most of them refugees fleeing conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan. But arrivals to Greece have fallen sharply since the EU entered a deal on March 20 with Turkey to stem the flow of migrants.
Migrants arriving in Italy number 46,714 since the beginning of the year, approximately the same as during the first five months of 2015, according to UNHCR.
Nearly all of those travelling from North Africa to Italy are from sub-Saharan Africa, especially Nigeria and Gambia, as well as Somalia and Eritrea.
Counting all routes across the Mediterranean, Spindler said the odds of dying while trying to cross to Europe was now one in 81. Spindler warned that the risk of dying on the route between Libya and Italy was now one in 23.
The boats taking this route tend to be far more crowded, he explained, often carrying 600 or more passengers and sometimes being towed by larger fishing boats, which Spindler said was "very dangerous."