"Massive arrivals" over "deadly" route this weekend: UNHCR chief

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Risking their lives to reach Europe from North Africa, a boatload of people, some of them likely in need of international protection, are rescued in the Mediterranean Sea by the Italian Navy. Photo: UNHCR/A. D’Amato

More than 6,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean from North Africa to Italy since Friday – a "particularly deadly" journey that "cannot continue" according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi said on Sunday that the weekend crossings meant that a total of 43,000 migrants and refugees had made the crossing so far this year.

Matthew Wells has more.

Mr Grandi said that more than 1,150 people had either disappeared or died on the perilous route since the beginning of this year, or one out of every 35 attempting it.

Most are fleeing war and violence in Africa and the Middle East, or desperately looking to make a living for themselves and their families.

The UNHCR chief said he was "profoundly shocked" at the levels of violence used by some smugglers on the lucrative but totally illegal route, and alarmed at the increase in the numbers being squeezed onto unseaworthy vessels.

He said there was "an urgent need" to address the root causes of the migration crisis, and offer "credible alternatives" to people in need of the most basic protection.

He praised the "tireless efforts" of the Italian coastguard, NGOs and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, who between them have save tens of thousands.

Last year alone, 46,000 were plucked from the central Mediterranean to safety.

Mr Grandi said action was needed, before people were exposed to the smugglers' and traffickers' "horrendous abuses" which meant redoubling efforts to solve conflicts, reduce poverty and support countries hosting large numbers of refugees.

Matthew Wells, United Nations.

Duration: 1'05"

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