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News Comment from Vincent Cochetel, Director of UNHCR's Europe bureau

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News Comment from Vincent Cochetel, Director of UNHCR's Europe bureau

23 March 2017

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is deeply alarmed at reports of at least two shipwrecks off the Libyan coasts on Thursday. According to NGO sources, five floating corpses of young men have been recovered some 14 miles off the Libyan coast near two empty and partially submerged rubber dinghies today. They are all deaths by drowning in the last 24 hours, the medical crew of Golfo Azzurro ship says. However, given the fact that those type of rubber dinghies are usually crammed with 120–130 people, we fear that the actual death toll might be much higher and that dozens more people might have perished in this incident.

This afternoon, NGOs also received a request from the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Rome from a third boat asking for help and still patrolling the area.

Those incidents come after an intense week of arrivals through the Central Mediterranean route, with almost 6,000 migrants and refugees rescued in just five days this week.

Since the beginning of 2017, some 21,903 people have crossed the Mediterranean Sea from Libya to Italy. In the same period of time in 2016, some 18,777 people undertook the same perilous journey. Since the beginning of 2017, and excluding this latest incident, some 587 people have died in the attempt to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. Last year was the deadliest ever recorded with 5,096 deaths.

Defeating the business model of traffickers requires the existence of credible legal pathways for those in need of international protection, including through resettlement, family reunification programmes and private sponsorship.

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