More than 1,000 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean this year, the UN has revealed.
UN refugee agency UNHCR said the ‘bleak milestone’ had been reached for the sixth year in a row after a weekend which saw at least 12 migrants killed when their inflatable boat sank off Morocco.
More than half the deaths this year have come on the ‘central Mediterranean’ route towards Italy and Malta.
In fact, that route represents around 68 per cent of the deaths in 2019, even though it makes up only 14 per cent of arrivals, according to UN figures.
A map showing the routes which Mediterranean migrants have taken to reach Europe, and how many have arrived and died on each one in the first nine months of this year
Migrants on an inflatable boat in the Mediterranean where 1,000 people have died this year trying to reach Europe, the UN refugee agency has said
Migrant arrivals and deaths in the Mediterranean in 2019
Central route (Italy and Malta)
Western route (Spain)
Eastern route (Greece and Cyprus)
Figures from International Organization for Migration as of September 27
In all, more than 68,000 people have attempted the Mediterranean crossing in the first nine months of 2019, with nearly 9,000 in the last month alone.
Of the 1,000 deaths this year, more than 650 have come on the ‘central’ route towards Italy and Malta.
More than 250 people have died on their way to Spain and another 60 died while heading for Greece or Cyprus.
The western route to Spain became more popular after Italy and its former interior minister Matteo Salvini adopted a hard line against migrants.
Although 7,000 migrants have arrived in Italy this year, the same number again have been intercepted at sea and returned to Libya.
However, Salvini lost power after a political gamble backfired over the summer and the new government has softened its stance a little.
Members of the Maltese Armed Forces take a group of migrants to a Maltese military ship in the Mediterranean Sea
Today’s grisly statistic has led to fresh demands for action.
‘Things must change. We must do more. Priority must be to save lives,’ said Charlie Yaxley of the UNHCR.
‘[NGOs] should not be criminalised nor penalised for their humanitarian efforts No arrests of crew. No seizure of boats. No denial of ports to dock.
‘We need to do more to stop people attempting these dangerous boat journeys in the first place.
‘We need safe, legal alternative pathways to access asylum in Europe. People should never feel they have no other choice than to put their lives in the hands of smugglers.’
Leonard Doyle of the International Organization for Migration blamed ‘a rising tide of anti-migrant sentiment in our politics’ for the deaths.
‘This shocking figure of 1,000 deaths is due in some measure to a hardening attitude and outright hostility towards migrants fleeing violence and poverty,’ he said.
However, the 2019 figures are lower than last year, and the 1,000th death has actually arrived later than in any other year since UN records began in 2014.
Last year the 1,000th death was recorded in June and in the three previous years it came before April 18.
A group of migrants arrive in Granada, southern Spain, two weeks ago after they were rescued as they sailed on a small canoe in the Mediterranean Sea
Yesterday the bodies of five more Moroccans were recovered after their inflatable boat headed for Spain sank off Casablanca.
Seven bodies were found hours after the migrant boat sank on Saturday and three other people pulled out of the water were taken to hospital.
It was unclear how many people were on the boat, and rescue workers have kept up their search.
Spain last month approved €32million (£29million) in aid to Morocco to combat illegal migration and the EU has also promised funds for border management.
Meanwhile, Libya’s coast guard rescued about 70 Europe-bound migrants at the weekend after several days in distress in the Mediterranean.
The previous day, it said a boat carrying at least 50 migrants capsized in the Mediterranean.
On top of that, at least three shipwrecks have been recorded off the coast of Algeria in the past two weeks.
In the Eastern Mediterranean, a baby girl went missing during the sea crossing from the coast of Turkey to the Greek island of Kos on 20 September, the UN agency said.