There has been a spike in deaths of those attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa to Italy so far this year, according to data from the UN Refugee Agency.

Figures from UNHCR show that while the number of refugees and migrants attempting the crossing between North Africa and Italy has remained fairly constant with some 115,000 arrivals as of the end of August this year compared with 116,000 during the same period last year, the rate at which those attempting the crossing are dying has grown from one in 52 last year to one in 42 this year.

Asylum seekers in Italy

A NEW WORLD?: Two young Gambian asylum seekers looking at a map on the wall at a Hot Spot, an asylum seeker reception center, in the port of Pozzallo, Sicily, Italy, earlier this year. A UNHCR report has found that the number of people dying attempting the crossing to from North Africa to Italy has spiked this year. PICTURE: © UNICEF/UN020011/Gilbertson VII Photo.

Overall, it’s estimated that some 4,176 people have believed to have died or gone missing attempting a sea crossing to Europe during the first eight months of 2016 with an average of 11 men, women and children dying every over the past 12 months.

This means that to date some 2,734 people have died or are missing having attempted the crossing to Italy this year compared with 2,914 for the whole of last year – a figure which UNHCR says means the chances of dying during the crossing from Libya to Italy are 10 times higher than when making the crossing from Turkey to Greece and one which makes 2016 the deadliest year to date for refugee crossings in the central Mediterranean.

In the east Mediterranean, the news is more positive with the rate at which refugees and migrants have been arriving in Greece has dropped from more than 67,000 in January this year to just 3,437 in August. This follows the implementation of an agreement between the EU and Turkey to end irregular migration and replace it with legal channels of resettlement.

Overall, it’s estimated that some 4,176 people have believed to have died or gone missing attempting a sea crossing to Europe during the first eight months of 2016 with an average of 11 men, women and children dying every over the past 12 months. Some 281,740 people have successfully made the sea crossing to Europe so far this year.

UNHCR spokesman William Spindler, speaking at a press briefing in Geneva on 2nd September, said that the death of three-year-old Alan Kurdi – images of whose lifeless body on a Turkish beach went viral around the world last year – had resulted in “unprecedented expressions of sympathy and solidarity for refugees all over Europe” and led to many people volunteering to help and give food, water and clothes to refugees as well as even offering to take them into their homes.

But he noted that the arrival of more than a million refugees and migrants last year has also given rise to “hostility and tensions” within their host countries.

“Refugees and migrants have suffered racist and xenophobic attacks, prejudice and discrimination,” said Mr Spindler.

“The ongoing challenge for Europe is to make available the support and services that refugees need to successfully integrate so that they can contribute fully to society – bringing new skills, determination and a cultural richness, as they seek to re-establish their lives in their new homes.”

Mr Spindler also said UNHCR urged governments and their national partners to commit to the development and implementation of comprehensive national integration plans.

“The numerous contributions refugees bring to their new societies need to be recognized. UNHCR also calls for a clear commitment to the prevention of discrimination, the promotion of inclusion and the combating of racism and xenophobia.”

Highlighting some of the acts of hospitality and solidarity which have taken place, UNHCR has commissioned photographer Aubrey Wade to produce a series of portraits or families who are hosting refugees in Austria, Germany and Sweden.

“[E]ach picture, each girl or boy, represents many millions of children in danger – and this demands that our compassion for the individual children we see be matched with action for all children.”

- Anthony Lake, UNICEF executive director

Meanwhile, a new report from UNICEF has shown that some 11 million children are currently living as refugees or asylum seekers outside their own nations due to violence or conflict while another 17 million have been displaced from their own homes for similar reasons but remain inside their nation’s borders. It shows the number of child refugees doubled between 2005 and 2015.

The report - Uprooted: The growing crisis for refugee and migrant children, also found that a growing number of children are crossing borders on their own with figures showing that in 2015 more than 100,000 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in 78 countries – triple the figure of 2014.

Anthony Lake, UNICEF executive director, said that while images like that of Alan Kurdi have “shocked the world”, each picture “represents many millions of children in danger – and this demands that our compassion for the individual children we see be matched with action for all children”.

Other findings from the report show that in addition to the those 28 million children uprooted from their homes because of violence or conflict, an additional 20 million other child migrants have left their homes for other reasons such as extreme poverty or gang violence taking the total to more than 50 million - a figure which equates to one children in every 45 on the planet.

While it is believed Turkey hosts the greatest number of child refugees on a per capita basis, Lebanon – where one in five people in a refugee – hosts the greatest number by far.

UNICEF has called for a range of actions to help displaced, refugee and migrant children, including protecting child refugees and migrants, particularly unaccompanied children, from exploitation and violence, ending the detention of children seeking refugee status or migrating by introducing a range of practical alternatives and keeping families together as “the best way to protect children and give children legal status”.

~www.unhcr.org/no-stranger-place
~ www.unicef.org/emergencies/childrenonthemove/