UNHCR alarmed at death toll from boat sinkings in the Mediterranean
GENEVA, September 16 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency is alarmed at the death toll from boat sinkings in the Mediterranean in recent days, which underlines the need for collective European action to avoid further loss of lives at sea.
According to information received by UNHCR from coastguards, five shipwrecks occurred over the weekend, leaving between 650 and 850 people dead or missing, although the figures are constantly, being revised upwards.
This made the past few days one of the deadliest periods seen in terms of the numbers of refugees and migrants losing their lives in attempts to reach Europe by irregular boat crossings.
Three of these occurred off the coast of Libya, with 340 people dead or missing. Another wreck happened east of Malta, which left between 300 and 500 people missing - according to differing accounts. Following this accident, three survivors were brought to Malta and hospitalized, six survivors were taken to the Greek island of Crete, and two people to Italy. There are disturbing reports that smugglers deliberately sunk the boat.
In a shipwreck off the coast of Egypt, 15 people from Gaza died on Saturday and five are missing after the boat they were riding in capsized in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of al-Ajami in northern Egypt, Egyptian military sources said.
With these latest deaths, UNHCR estimates that this year more than 2,500 people have died or gone missing at sea, including over 2,200 since the start of June.
The refugee agency believes these tragic events underline the need for collective European action to avoid further loss of lives at sea, including strengthened search and rescue operations and legal alternatives to such dangerous sea journeys for those in need of international protection.
Survivors of high seas disasters, who often have lost family and friends, need to be given swift access to psychological support. UNHCR has also called for procedures to be put in place to allow for identification of the bodies recovered at sea, providing quick and clear information so that families are not subjected to additional trauma.