More than 2,500 migrants crossing the Mediterranean died or went missing this year
More than 2,500 migrants died or went missing this year while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to get to Europe, according to the United Nations.
It's a startling two-thirds increase from last year's toll of 1,680 people in the same period, and comes as Europe sees a massive influx of migrants making the perilous journey in numbers not seen in years.
Between January and Sept. 24, about 186,000 people arrived by sea in southern Europe, landing in Italy, Greece, Spain, Cyprus and Malta, Ruven Menikdiwela, director of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Office in New York, told the U.N.'s Security Council on Thursday. Italy has received the majority of those arrivals, with the number of migrants arriving accelerating in recent months — over 130,000 migrants, more than double the number at the end of June and an 83% increase compared to the same period last year.
Arriving migrants have overwhelmed Lampedusa, a small Italian island that serves as a main point of entry from North Africa into Europe that's become a recent flashpoint in the migration crisis. This month, about 12,000 people — more than twice the island's population — landed there within a single week.
"The situation on Lampedusa is cause for serious concern," Menikdiwela said.
The U.N. representative expressed gratitude for the efforts made by local authorities on Lampedusa, including their work to "quickly decongest" the island.
But, she added, Italy can't be left alone in responding to the needs of arriving migrants, calling on help from other nations.
The U.N.'s refugee commissioner "has repeatedly called for the establishment of an agreed regional disembarkation and redistribution mechanism for people who arrive by sea, in a spirit of responsibility sharing and solidarity with front-line states," she said.
Some 102,000 of the migrants who attempted to cross into Europe this year came from Tunisia; 45,000 traveled from Libya. Many die long before reaching sea waters as they travel from sub-Saharan Africa to North African embarkation points along some of the world's most dangerous land routes, Menikdiwela noted. Refugees and migrants who travel these routes "risk death and gross human rights violations at every step," she said.
As of June, the number of migrants arriving in Europe was similar to another crisis period, from 2015 to 2017, Flavio di Giacomo, a spokesperson for UN's International Organization for Migration, previously told NPR.
Menikdiwela also emphasized the need for a "panoramic approach" that includes addressing the root causes of the migration movements in countries of origin and specific measures such as increasing search-and-rescue efforts and more effective prosecution of smugglers and traffickers.
The U.N.'s warnings and recommendations came on the same day leaders of the European Union met in Brussels to discuss migration reforms, a longstanding issue among the 27-nation bloc. EU interior ministers are trying to draw up an agreement on a pact that would clarify asylum rules and form a "solidarity" plan that would help out front-line member states share some of the burden of processing migrants.
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