Mediterranean Sea: 100 people reported dead yesterday, bringing year total to 5,000

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[This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler at yesterday's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. *RON*]

UN High Commissio for Refugees, 23 December 2016

Refugees and migrants rescued at sea by the Italian coast guard reach the port of Augusta, Sicily in this May 2016 file photo. © UNHCR/Patrick Russo
Around 100 people are feared to have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea yesterday. The Italian coastguard carried out four rescue operations in the Central Mediterranean Sea. 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.

In two separate incidents rubber dinghies collapsed and passengers fell into the sea, the Italian Coastguard reported. The first dinghy was carrying between 120 and 140 people including many women and children. Only 63 people survived after the dinghy collapsed and passengers fell into the water. The second dinghy was carrying about 120 people and 80 were rescued by the Coastguard.

Around 175 people were successfully rescued from another dinghy and a wooden boat. The Coastguard disembarked 264 people last night in Trapani, Sicily. Eight bodies were also recovered during the operations.

This situation highlights the urgent need for States to increase pathways for admission of refugees, such as resettlement, private sponsorship, family reunification and student scholarship schemes, among others, so they do not have to resort to dangerous journeys and the use of smugglers.

The causes for the alarming increase in deaths this year are multiple but appear to be related to the declining quality of the vessels used by people smugglers, the vagaries of the weather and the tactics used by smugglers to avoid detection by the authorities. These include sending large numbers of embarkations simultaneously, which makes the work of rescuers more difficult.

An average of 14 people have died every day in the Mediterranean Sea during 2016, the highest number ever recorded. Last year, when over a million people crossed the Mediterranean, 3771 casualties were recorded.

For more information on this topic, please contact:
In Rome, Federico Fossi, fossi@unhcr.org, +39 349 084 3461
In Geneva, William Spindler, spindler@unhcr.org, +41 79 217 3011
In Geneva, Babar Baloch, baloch@unhcr.org, +41 79 513 9549

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