Crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe has become “deadlier than ever,” according to a new report by the U.N. Refugee Agency.
While the total number of people who arrived in Europe has decreased so far this year, the rate of deaths has increased “sharply” compared to 2017, the report states. In the Central Mediterranean, for example, one person died or went missing for every 18 people who crossed to Europe between January and July this year, compared to one death for every 42 people who made the crossing during the same period last year.
In total, more than 1,600 people have died or gone missing while attempting the journey so far this year.
“This report once again confirms the Mediterranean as one of the world’s deadliest sea crossings,” said the U.N. Refugee Agency’s Director of the Bureau for Europe Pascale Moreau in a statement.
“With the number of people arriving on European shores falling, this is no longer a test of whether Europe can manage the numbers, but whether Europe can muster the humanity to save lives.”
The U.N. agency also called on European leaders to increase access to safe and legal pathways for refugees, “including by increasing resettlement places and removing obstacles to family reunification,” in order to give people alternatives to the potentially deadly voyage.
Commission spokesman Tove Ernst said in response to the report that the EU has made saving lives “our top priority and this is what we have been working relentlessly to do.”
Ernst also refuted the notion that EU policies could be to blame for the deaths.
“It’s not the EU’s policy that is causing these tragedies. It is the cruel and dangerous business model used by traffickers and smugglers who are exploiting human misery and putting people’s lives at risk,” she said.