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'Dramatic increase' in migrants crossing Med

June 9, 2015

The United Nations (UN) has reported that 103,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe so far this year. The organization's refugee agency (UNHCR) has described the figure as a "dramatic increase."

Rescued migrants
Image: picture alliance/dpa/A. Di Meo

Since the beginning of 2015, some 54,000 migrants have safely reached the shores of Italy. Another 48,000 have arrived in Greece. By comparison, 34,000 migrants arrived in Greece throughout the entirety of 2014. A further 920 migrants also landed in Spain and 91 in Malta, the UNHCR said.

Included in the latest figures are almost 6,000 people, most of them sub-Saharan Africans, who were rescued by EU coastguards off Libya last weekend.

UNHCR "is stepping up its presence in Greece and in southern Italy in response to the dramatic increase in numbers of refugees and migrants who we have been seeing arriving," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told journalists in Geneva on Tuesday.

As well as the numbers of migrants crossing the Mediterranean rapidly increasing, mass drownings have also become more common in recent months; 1,800 lives were lost as a result in the first half of this year.

Figures set to rise

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) on Tuesday predicted that the huge influx would continue into the summer, as seasonally calm weather in the Mediterranean would encourage human smugglers to make the crossing.

"The rescue operations carried out by the international flotilla is a prelude to what is expected to be a surge of migrant crossings in the months ahead," IOM spokesman Joel Millman said.

Most of the refugees making the perilous crossing are fleeing conflict-torn Syria and Libya, the totalitarian east African country of Eritrea, and Afghanistan.

ksb/msh (AFP, dpa)