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More than 200 people missing in the Mediterranean

Several shipwrecks in the Mediterranean since Friday have left the UN fearing for the fate of those missing
While the number of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean has decreased in the past year, European countries have ramped up anti-immigrant rhetoric (AFP)

More than 200 people have gone missing at sea during shipwrecks while trying to cross the Mediterranean, the UN refugee agency in Libya said on Monday.

UNHCR reported on social media at least two shipwrecks took place since Friday with 100 people going missing on 29 June and another 114 on 2 July, as survivors have been transported back to Libya, from where they had undertaken their dangerous journey.

Another 63 people were reported missing on Monday by Libyan naval forces, who estimated that at least 180 people have disappeared at sea since Friday, AFP reported.

Libya is a key transit point for thousands of people fleeing war and poverty trying to reach European shores.

Hundreds die every year crossing the Mediterranean in dangerous conditions trying to reach Italy, with traffickers taking advantage of political instability in the North African country by putting thousands onto flimsy boats from Libyan shores.

While the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has reported that 1,000 people have drowned in the Mediterranean as of this month, the UN said the death toll had surpassed 1,000 as of 21 June.

The flow of migrants has abated since a peak in 2015, with the number attempting the dangerous sea crossing from North Africa falling to tens of thousands from hundreds of thousands.

Arrivals to Europe dropped by nearly half between 2016 and 2017, according to UN figures, with 43,096 sea arrivals recorded in the Mediterranean thus far in 2018 compared to 172,301 in all of 2017.

The sharp drop in arrivals is seen as tied to tougher migration policies by European states, as the populist and far-right governments in some countries such as Italy have been fuelled by anti-immigrant discourse.

However, there has been a rush in the past few days to beat an anticipated crackdown by the European Union, the IOM said late on Sunday.

“There is an alarming increase in deaths at sea off Libya's coast,” IOM's Libya chief of mission Othman Belbeisi said in a statement. “Smugglers are exploiting the desperation of migrants to leave before there are further crackdowns on Mediterranean crossings by Europe.”

The other main route, from Turkey to Greece, used by more than a million people in 2015, was largely shut two years ago in a Turkish-EU deal.

European leaders held an informal summit in Brussels in June to discuss the issue, as French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed to forge ahead with like-minded leaders on ways to reduce migrant flows and share responsibility for those who land on Europe's shores.

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