The UN refugee agency, also known as the UNHCR, says the number of refugees who died in the Mediterranean Sea on their way to Europe in 2016 has reached an all-time high. “We can confirm that at least 3,800 people have been reported dead or missing in the Mediterranean Sea so far this year, making the death toll in 2016 the highest ever recorded,” said the UN refugee agency spokesman, William Spindler, on Wednesday.
The alarming surge, which surpassed the death toll of 3,771 for 2015, comes despite a considerable decline in the number of refugees crossing the Mediterranean in 2016. More than a million people reached Europe via the Mediterranean in 2016, while fewer than 330,000 crossings have been reported so far this year.
The number of refugees heading to Europe has declined as the European Union in March signed a controversial deal with Turkey aimed at stemming the flow of refugees into the continent by forcing those deported from the EU to either be located in Turkey or go back to the original country of departure.
Since then, the route between Libya and Italy across the central Mediterranean has become the main way as pathways to Greece have been closed down. According to the agency, the likelihood of perishing in the shorter route between Turkey and Greece was one in 88, while one death for every 47 arrivals was reported in the most perilous route between Libya and Italy in 2016. The UNHCR attributed the surge mainly to the overcrowded “lower quality vessels, flimsy inflatable rafts” often used by smugglers.