Refugee crossings into Europe top 300,000

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Afghan refugees leave their dinghy and wade ashore in Mytilini, on the Greek island of Lesvos. UNHCR/Jowan Akkash

The number of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean into Europe this year has exceeded 300,000, and some 2,500 have died or gone missing, the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, has announced.

The figures mark a sharp increase from the roughly 219,000 people who made the same crossing during the whole of last year.

Maria Carlino reports.

Nearly 200,000 people crossing the Mediterranean into Europe this year have landed in Greece, while about 110,000 have landed in Italy, according to UNHCR.

The agency said an estimated 2,500 refugees and migrants trying to reach Europe this year have died or gone missing; most are fleeing violence and conflict in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. 

The death toll does not include those attempting to make the crossing on two packed boats that capsized on Thursday near Libya. An estimated 200 people are still missing and feared dead. 

On Wednesday, rescuers coming to the aid of another boat off the Libyan coast and found 51 dead from suffocation in the hold. 

UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming described the incidents as "shocking and indicative" of the ruthless nature of the smuggling trade. 

" We interviewed some of the survivors yesterday and they told us the smugglers were charging people money for allowing them to come out of the hold in order to breathe. One survivor, Abdel, 25, from Sudan told our colleagues, we didn't want to go down there but they beat us with sticks to force us. We had no air so we were trying to get back up through the hatch and to breathe through the cracks in the ceiling. But the other passengers were scared the boat would capsize so they pushed us back down and beat us too.” 

UNHCR said that while joint European search and rescue operations have saved tens of thousands of lives this year, the Mediterranean Sea continues to be the deadliest route for refugees and migrants. 

Maria Carlino, United Nations.

Duration: 1’34″

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