Migrant crossings have dropped, but the death rate has doubled. Here’s why

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A Red Cross volunteer carries a Syrian refugee baby off an overcrowded raft at a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos November 16, 2015. Of the 660,000 refugees and migrants who have reached Greece this year, more than half have landed at Lesbos. So far this year, some 3,460 lives have been lost crossing the Mediterranean, 360 in the last four weeks alone with 250 of these in Greek territorial waters, UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards told a news briefing in Geneva on November 13. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTS7BGP

A Red Cross volunteer carries a Syrian refugee baby off an overcrowded raft at a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos on Nov. 16, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

The number of migrants who have died trying to cross the Mediterranean this year will surpass the number of deaths in 2015, the United Nations refugee agency said Tuesday.

The agency reports at least 3,740 are dead or missing so far in 2016 compared to 3,771 in all of 2015.

That despite the fact that about half as many people have made the journey across the Mediterranean this year compared to last. Even as the total number of migrants has declined, the death rate has doubled, UN High Commissioner Spokesman William Spindler told journalists in Geneva.

The UN attributes the rise in fatalities to multiple factors.

Some of the deaths can be linked to bad weather that overturns migrant vessels. Smugglers are using lower quality boats, including inflatable rafts. They are also overcrowding small boats with thousands of people, which makes the boast more susceptible to overturning.

And more people are traveling on the perilous route from Libya to Italy. Nearly nine in 10 migrants who died this year were on that route, The New York Times reports.

Migrant advocacy organizations warned earlier this year that more people might make the journey from Libya once routes were blocked from Turkey into Greece.

In a statement, a UN spokesman acknowledged the challenge countries that have been inundated with refugees face.

“But measures to save lives are available and UNHCR urges all countries to do more in this regard,” Spindler said. “Significantly expanding the availability of regular pathways for refugees to reach safety needs much greater and urgent attention.”

The Associated Press reports that Italy’s coast guard saved 2,200 lives Monday through 21 migrant rescue missions, although 16 bodies were recovered as well. The Italian Navy and Coast Guard is seeking assistance from the European Union to offset the burden of rescue and return missions.

The UN estimates that 65 million people worldwide are refugees or migrants, making it the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

In September, the UN General Assembly held a summit to address the migrant crisis. Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, spoke with the PBS NewsHour shortly after the summit.

“I think there is a growing realization that these are global issues, global problems that affect the whole of humanity and only working together we can address the root causes, we can address what pushes people to move on,” Grandi said.

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