Migrants wearing life jackets sit in a dinghy as they illegally cross the English Channel from France to Britain, on March 15, 2022. AFP
A fresh report from the UN refugee agency demanded urgent action to combat surging deaths among refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants trying to reach Europe.
Last year, a total of 3,077 people were lost while trying to cross the Mediterranean and Atlantic routes to the continent, the report showed, up from 1,544 in 2020.
"Alarmingly, since the beginning of the year, an additional 478 people have also died or gone missing at sea," UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo told reporters in Geneva.
The report showed that for 2021, 1,924 people were reported dead or missing on the Central and Western Mediterranean routes, while another 1,153 perished on the North African maritime route to the Canary Islands.
"Most of the sea crossings took place in packed, unseaworthy, inflatable boats, many of which capsized or were deflated leading to the loss of life," Mantoo said.
The sea journey from countries on the West African coast such as Mauritania and Senegal to the Canary Islands was particularly perilous, she said, pointing out that the crossing could take up to 10 days.
"Many boats drifted off course or otherwise went missing without a trace in these waters," she said.
The UNHCR report cautioned that land routes were also "highly dangerous".
"Even greater numbers may have died on journeys through the Sahara Desert and remote border areas, in detention centres, or while in the captivity of smugglers or traffickers," Mantoo said.
UNHCR warned that the Covid-19 pandemic and related border closures had complicated movement further and had forced many desperate refugees and migrants to turn to smugglers to make their perilous journeys.
The UN agency also cautioned that political instability and conflicts, as well as climate change, could increase such dangerous displacement going forward.
"UNHCR is appealing for support to help provide meaningful alternatives to these dangerous journeys and prevent people from becoming victims of traffickers," Mantoo said.