Reports from UN Refugee Agency UNHCR that up to 500 people are feared dead following a shipwreck off the coast of Libya confirm the Mediterranean's grim status as the world's deadliest migration route.
According to a tally by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), out of 1,490 migrants who have died or gone missing in the world since January 1, some 1,233 met their end while crossing the Mediterranean. This does not include the numbers reported by migrants who survived the most recent shipwreck.
In the whole of 2015, there were 3,772 migrant deaths on Europe's southern sea border, up from 3,279 in the previous year, the IOM has estimated.
The number of casualties has not decreased despite the launch of several sea rescue missions since the end of 2013, first by the Italian government, then by the European Union and private outfits like the Doctors Without Borders medical charity.
This can be explained by the fact that the absolute number of migrants attempting dangerous sea crossings from North African and the Middle East has skyrocketed from 22,500 in 2012 to more than 1 million last year, according to the UNHCR.
The Geneva-based agency said the latest shipwreck, which according to accounts from 41 survivors took place sometime last week, could "be one of the worst tragedies involving refugees and migrants in the last 12 months."
In the worst accident of recent years, at least 600 migrants died in an April 18, 2015 shipwreck off Libya. Almost 200 bodies have been recovered, but the Italian navy expects to find hundreds more inside the sunken ship, which is due to be refloated in the coming days.
Another infamous shipwreck took place on October 3, 2013, near the Italian island of Lampedusa, killing at least 366 people, shocking European public opinion and prompting the Italian decision to launch the Mare Nostrum rescue mission.
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