More than 2,500 migrants and refugees have died trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe so far this year, the UN’s refugee agency has said.
The UNHCR said 2016 is “proving to be particularly deadly”, as it revealed at least 880 people died trying to cross the sea in the last week alone after vessels capsized or were shipwrecked.
The figure for 2016 so far compares to 1,855 in the same period last year.
“At the moment (smugglers) are packing people on boats that are barely sea-worthy and many cases are not meant to make the crossing,” UNHCR spokesman William Spindler said.
“What happens is as soon as they depart from shore they call for rescuers and then rescue services come and rescue them.
“It’s a race against time to get there before the boats sink, in some cases it gets there too late.”
On Saturday, the Italian coastguard coordinated the rescue of a total of 668 migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean.
The rescues took place in the Sicily Channel off the Libyan coast and were carried out by various ships from the Italian navy, the European Union Naval Force in the Mediterranean and the Irish navy.
The updated figures from the UNHCR come after the agency interviewed survivors brought to Italy.
Authorities and international organisations had previously reported that some 700 migrants and refugees had died in shipwrecks over three days last week, the highest known tally in more than a year.
Mr Spindler also repeated the UNHCR’s appeal to the European Union to allow for more legal means for refugees to reach Europe, and said it was shameful the bloc had resettled fewer than 2,000 people under a plan revealed last year to resettle 160,000.
According to the International Organisation for Migration, 204,311 migrants or refugees have crossed the sea since the beginning of this year.
The influx is increasing with favourable weather conditions and calm seas.