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Refugees being rescued in the Mediterranean Sea. Many migrants out of sheer desperation attempt crossing the Mediterranean in overfilled, rickety boats. / © UNHCR

5,000 migrants drown in Mediterranean in 2016

More than 5,000 migrants are thought to have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in 2016, a record figure described as “a devastating milestone” by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).

On Thursday, 23 December alone, some 100 mainly West Africans were feared to have perished making the treacherous crossing to Europe.

To save lives, the UNHCR says legal entry for those seeking safety is desperately needed.

“This situation highlights the urgent need for states to increase pathways for admission of refugees, such as resettlement, private sponsorship, family reunification and student scholarship schemes, among others, so they do not have to resort to dangerous journeys and the use of smugglers,” said UNHCR spokesman William Spindler.

Just under 3,800 migrants perished at sea during all of 2015, according to figures from the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The UN says smugglers are now sending large numbers of migrants to Europe simultaneously, making the work of rescuers more difficult.

Bad weather and ever flimsier vessels are also blamed for an average of 14 migrant deaths a day in the Mediterranean in 2016, among those risking everything.

IOM figures show 358,403 migrants and refugees had entered Europe by sea in 2016 up to and including 21 December, arriving mostly in Greece and Italy. // Kwame Appiah

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