The number of migrants who have died while trying to cross the Mediterranean this year has already surpassed twice the average annual total, the highest toll since the beginning of the century.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said on Monday that a record 3,072 people had died attempting to reach Europe during the first nine months of 2014.

That is more than double the annual average of about 1,500 deaths. Many are refugees fleeing wars in places such as Syria.

“Our message is blunt: migrants are dying who need not,” said William Lacy Swing, the director general of IOM, in a statement posted on the organisation's website.

“It is time to do more than count the number of victims. It is time to engage the world to stop this violence against desperate migrants.

According to a report issued by the Geneva-based organisation, a total of 40,000 migrants have died since the year 2000, more than half of them have drowned in the Mediterranean, making Europe the "most dangerous destination for irregular migrants".

'Harsh response'

IOM’s research records that since 2000 nearly 6,000 more migrant deaths occurred along the US-Mexico border and another 3,000 deaths from such diverse migration routes as Africa’s Sahara Desert and the waters of the Indian Ocean.

The report noted that the actual figures of fatalities is likely to be higher, since most governments do not prioritise collecting such data, although they are one of the key sources for such counts.

The IOM urged countries around the world to do more to prevent migrant deaths and to release data on fatalities that could highlight the extent of the problem.

“The paradox is that at a time when one in seven people around the world are migrants, we are seeing an extraordinarily harsh response to migration in the developed world,” says IOM Director General Swing.

“Limited opportunities for safe and regular migration drive would-be migrants into the hands of smugglers, feeding an unscrupulous trade that threatens the lives of desperate people. We need to put an end to this cycle. Undocumented migrants are not criminals. They are human beings in need of protection and assistance, and deserving respect,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies