2016 the Deadliest Year for Migrants Crossing the Mediterranean
Mediterranean Crisis

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.

At least 3,800 migrants have died or are missing in the Mediterranean Sea in 2016 – the deadliest year on record, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has said.

It said this was despite a significant drop in migrant crossings compared with 2015, when 3,771 deaths were reported.

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Smugglers were now more often using flimsy boats and putting more people aboard, the UNHCR said.

The report came as 25 bodies were found in a partially flooded inflatable dinghy off Libya’s coast on Wednesday.

More than 100 other migrants were rescued from the boat by Medecins Sans Frontieres, the aid agency said.

Recently the UNHCR tweeted: “Latest reports put the number of people dead and missing in the Mediterranean Sea this year at over 3800, the highest ever.”

The agency said the most dangerous route had been between Libya and Italy, with one death in every 47 arrivals recorded.

By comparison, another – much shorter – route from Turkey to Greece had a ratio of 1 in 88.

Back in 2015, the Mediterranean migrant crisis was sharply explained in under 2 minutes in a video by Mashable:


Fewer migrants were using the latter route after Turkey and the European Union reached a deal on how to tackle the issue earlier this year, the UNHCR said.

It added that the death rate had risen because smugglers were now “often using lower-quality vessels – flimsy inflatable rafts that do not last the journey”.

Nearly 330,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean Sea this year, compared with more than one million in 2015.

Some migrants are seeking economic opportunities in Europe – others are fleeing war, instability or authoritarian governments.

Mediterranean Sea: Top nationalities of migrants

Mediterranean Sea: Top nationalities of migrants

The causes of the increase are multiple: About half those who have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year have traveled 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.

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.