Mediterranean death toll soars to all-time high

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is alarmed at the high death toll being seen this year among refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean. Already, and with two months of 2016 still to go, at least 3,740 lives are reported lost – just short of the 3,771 deaths reported for the whole of 2015. This is the worst we have seen.

The high loss of life comes despite a large overall fall this year in the number of people seeking to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. Last year at least 1,015,078 people made the crossing. This year so far, crossings stand at 327,800. From one death for every 269 arrivals last year, in 2016 the likelihood of dying has spiralled to one in 88. On the Central Mediterranean route between Libya and Italy the likelihood of dying is even higher, at one death for every 47 arrivals.

The causes of the increase are multiple: About half those who have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year have travelled from North Africa to Italy – a known more perilous route. People smugglers are today often using lower-quality vessels – flimsy inflatable rafts that often do not last the journey. Several incidents seem to be connected with travel during bad weather. And the tactics of smugglers are switching too, with several occasions when there have been mass embarkations of thousands of people at a time. This may be to do with the shifting smuggler business model or geared towards lowering detection risks, but it also makes the work of rescuers harder.

Addressing this situation while ensuring functioning asylum systems remains a policy challenge for many countries, but measures to save lives are available and UNHCR urges all countries to do more in this regard. Significantly expanding the availability of regular pathways for refugees to reach safety needs much greater and urgent attention. Such means include enhanced resettlement and humanitarian admissions, family reunification, private sponsorship, and humanitarian, student and work visas for refugees. The high death rate is also a reminder of the importance of continuing and robust search and rescue capacities – without which the fatality rates would almost certainly be higher. UNHCR thanks those governments and private entities who on a daily basis, and often in difficult conditions, contribute to the important work of saving lives.


For more information see:

Fact sheet (PDF)

Data portal


Additional resources (video):

INDIVIDUAL STORIES: Watch the story of Sumaya, a Sudanese refugee who attempted the Mediterranean crossing from Egypt:

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