Migrant crisis: UN says 5,000 drown trying to reach Europe this year

A migrant waits to disembark from the rescue vessel Responder, Image copyright Reuters
Image caption An average of 14 migrants are drowning in the Mediterranean every day

The number of undocumented migrants who drown in the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe has reached 5,000, the highest annual total yet, the UN says.

The latest figures, released by the UN's refugee agency, include 100 deaths reported on Thursday after two rubber dinghies sank off Italy.

The increase was down to bad weather, ever riskier boats and tactics to avoid detection, a spokesman said.

The UN said Europe should organise legal ways for refugees to find safety.

Spokesman William Spindler said the increase in deaths was "alarming" and the smugglers' practice of sending thousands of migrants off at the same time made it difficult for rescuers of save them all.

Almost 360,000 migrants entered Europe by sea this year, mostly arriving in Italy and Greece, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Migrants are being put to sea on increasingly flimsy boats, the UN says

The record number of deaths means an average of 14 people are drowning in the Mediterranean every day despite the overall number of people making the crossing declining.

Most have perished on the dangerous crossing from North Africa to Italy after the shorter crossing from Turkey to Greece was closed off earlier this year.

The UN said legal routes for refugees to reach Europe should include resettlement and family reunification programmes as well as private sponsorship and student scholarships to prevent refugees from resorting to the use of people smugglers.

Just under 3,800 migrants died in the Mediterranean in 2015, according to IOM figures.

A note on terminology: The BBC uses the term migrant to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.