Hundreds of refugees died on way to Europe this year

In less than two months, 409 refugees have died, as refugee arrivals spiked tenfold to more than 75,000, the IOM says.

Refugees and migrants are seen on a dinghy as they approach the Ayios Efstratios Coast Guard vessel, during a rescue operation in the open sea between the Turkish coast and the Greek island of Lesbos
The number of refugees who arrived in Europe has topped 76,000 so far this year [Giorgos Moutafis/Reuters]

More than 400 people have died this year trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea, and refugee crossings in the first six weeks of 2016 are running at nearly 10 times the rate of the same period last year, the International Organization for Migration said.

The IOM reported on Tuesday that the number of arrivals topped 76,000, and the number of deaths shot up to 409 on Mediterranean routes, compared with 69 in the first six weeks of 2015.

“The daily average of nearly 2,000 arrivals is nearly 10 times the daily average of a year ago,” the IOM said in a statement.

“IOM expects Greece to receive its one millionth migrant since the beginning of 2015 by some time next month.”

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More than 1.1 million people fleeing poverty, war and repression in the Middle East, Asia and Africa reached Europe’s shores last year, most of them heading for Germany.

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Around half of the arrivals are refugees from the Syrian war, the UN Refugee Agency, the UNHCR, says.

The IOM reported that 70,365 migrants and refugees had arrived by sea in Greece so far this year, and 5,898 in Italy.

Some 319 have died while crossing the eastern Mediterranean from Turkey to Greece and 90 on the central route between North Africa and Italy.

Joel Millman, an IOM spokesman, said that the organisation did not expect the number of migrant and refugee arrivals in Europe to fall in the foreseeable future.

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“There are more concurrent crises around than we’ve ever seen at one time,” he said.

“Conditions on the ground in the countries that are feeding the migrant crisis are largely unchanged, so we think the numbers will probably stay the same.”

The short eastern Mediterranean crossing is safer than the central Mediterranean route, where there were a number of sinkings in 2015.

Millman said that the number of Aegean deaths had suddenly shot up at the end of last year, when small boats sank almost daily – possibly showing that migrants were using less seaworthy boats.

Underscoring the crisis, at least 33 refugees drowned off Turkey’s Aegean coast on Monday as they tried to reach the Greek island of Lesbos.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies