The number of migrants and refugees who died while attempting to reach Europe by sea more than doubled in the first half of this year compared to the same period in 2020, a new United Nations report shows.
At least 1,146 migrants have died at sea between January and June while trying to reach Europe, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), a U.N. agency. The number of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe increased by 58 percent.
However, the number of fatalities could be much higher as shipwrecks are often unreported, IOM said in its report.
Most deaths occurred in the Mediterranean Sea, with 896 fatalities reported between January and June, a 130 percent increase compared to the same period last year, according to the IOM report. One particular route from Libya to Italy was the deadliest, claiming at least 741 lives, followed by the western route to Spain, where 149 people died. At least six died en route to Greece.
In the Atlantic, 250 migrants died crossing from West Africa to the Canary Islands.
According to the report, the coronavirus pandemic and the restrictions to contain the spread of COVID-19 may explain the lower number of people attempting to migrate on maritime routes to Europe last year. The 2020 total fell to its lowest level since 2015, when many refugees were fleeing the war in Syria.
IOM spokesperson Safa Msehli told The Associated Press that one reason for the increase this year is "the absence of proactive, European, state-led search and rescue operations in international waters combined with restrictions on NGOs."
“These people cannot be abandoned in such a dangerous journey,” she said.