The United Nations refugee agency says more than 300,000 refugees have crossed the Mediterranean Sea so far this year in the hope of reaching the wealthy European countries.
"The number of refugees and migrants reaching European shores this year passed the 300,000 mark today,” William Spindler, a UNHCR spokesman said Tuesday, adding that the figure was far fewer than the 520,000 who arrived during the first nine months of 2015.
According to Spindler, however, 2016 has been “the deadliest year on record in the Mediterranean Sea,” as 3,211 refugees have been reported dead or missing on the Mediterranean so far this year. He said the figure was just 15 percent lower than the total number of fatalities for the entire 2015, which stood at 3,771, meaning that fatality rate had risen.
The UNHCR said the pattern for the movement of refugees across the sea had changed with those daring the dangerous journey from Libya to Italy remaining almost the same in numbers compared to the last year but those coming from Turkey to Greece showing a sharp decrease.
Spindler said 130,411 refugees arrived in Italy since the start of this year, nearly the same as the 132,000 in 2015. However, Greece recorded a 57-percent drop in the arrivals since March, when the European Union and Turkey clinched a deal to curb the flow of refugees.
The agency said Syrians, who suffer the crippling effects of the conflict in their country, make up half of those who have crossed the Mediterranean to Greece despite all restrictions imposed this year.
For nearly two years, Europe has been suffering from a massive refugee crisis which has been described as the most unprecedented in decades. More than a million entered the continent last year, most of them fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and North Africa. Many blame Western policies toward the region for the refugee influx.