ARCHIVE PHOTO: Syrian and Afghan refugees fall into the sea after their dinghy deflated some 100m away before reaching the Greek island of Lesbos, September 13, 2015. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
GENEVA, (Reuters) – More than 1,000 migrants and refugees have died in the Mediterranean Sea this year, the sixth year in a row that this “bleak milestone” has been reached, the United Nations said on Tuesday.
The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR called for European Union (EU) member states to reactivate search and rescue operations and acknowledge the crucial role of aid groups’ vessels in saving lives at sea.
“The tragedy of the Mediterranean cannot be allowed to continue,” Charlie Yaxley, spokesman of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said in a statement.
The bodies of five migrants were found on Morocco’s Atlantic coast near Casablanca on Monday, bringing to 12 the number killed when their boat capsized on Saturday, the state news agency reported.
The EU struck a deal with Ankara in 2016 to cut off refugee and migrant flows to Greece from Turkey. Departures, now also diverted largely via Libya and other parts of North Africa, have fallen sharply from a peak of more than 1 million in 2015 to some 78,000 so far this year, UNHCR figures show.
“Of course the number of people attempting to cross the Mediterranean are much lower. So, that points to the fact that the journeys themselves are much more dangerous,” UNHCR spokeswoman Liz Throssell told Reuters Television.
“It is also worth highlighting that 70 percent of the deaths actually occur on the central Mediterranean, namely people attempting to get from Libya across to Italy or Malta.”
More than 18,000 people have lost their lives in Mediterranean crossings since 2014, according to figures from both the UNHCR and the website of the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration (IOM).