Mediterranean migrant crossings hit 224,000 in 2015: UN

AFP , Thursday 6 Aug 2015

Survivors of the capsizing and sinking of a fishing boat crowded with migrants are brought aboard Irish and Italian Navy life-boats to the Dignity I MSF search and rescue vessel which responded to the emergency in the Mediterranean sea off Libya, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015 (Photo: AP)

Some 224,000 migrants and refugees have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe so far this year, the United Nations said Thursday, a day after more than 200 people were feared drowned trying to make the perilous journey.

"What we have at Europe's doorstep is a refugee crisis," UN refugee agency spokesman William Spindler told AFP in an email.

He said that by the end of July, around 224,000 refugees and migrants had arrived in Europe by sea.

Nearly all of the people crossing the Mediterranean during the first seven months of the year, often in rickety boats and at the mercy of human traffickers, have landed in Greece (124,000) and in Italy (98,000), he said.

During that period, far from everyone has made it to shore, with more than 2,100 people drowning or going missing, Spindler said.

He stressed though that this figure did not take into account the some 200 people believed to have perished in a shipwreck off the coast of Libya on Wednesday.

Their fishing boat, believed to have been carrying more than 600 people, ran into difficulty about 15 nautical miles off Libya and tipped over when rescuers neared, after frantic migrants rushed to one side in their desperation to be saved.

Irish patrol vessel Niamh, first on the scene of the disaster, arrived in Palermo Thursday with 367 survivors, including 12 women and 13 children, as well as 25 bodies recovered from the sea.

It is the third such disaster this year.

"Most of those crossing the Mediterranean are refugees fleeing war and persecution, not economic migrants," Spindler said, pointing out that Syrians fleeing their bloody civil war accounted for a full 38 percent of arrivals so far this year.

Eritreans make up 12 percent of those landing on Europe's shores, followed by Afghans at 11 percent, Nigerians at five percent and Somalis at four percent, he said.

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