More than 1,000 refugees have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea so far this year, as charities battling to stem the record number of deaths increasingly come under attack.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has recorded at least 1,073 people dead or missing on the treacherous passage between Libya and Italy – a grim benchmark that was not reached until the end of May last year.
At least 150 are children, Unicef said, while warning that the real figure is likely to be far higher because unaccompanied minors’ deaths frequently go unreported.
Such is the danger of death that asylum seekers embarking on flimsy dinghies have been known to write phone numbers in marker pen on life jackets, so loved ones can be notified if their body is recovered.
More than 8,300 migrants were rescued over the Easter weekend alone, with some of those taken to safety telling aid workers around 100 of their fellow passengers had died during the voyage.
Many dinghies have capsized, seeing up to 170 people crammed on board drown, while others have been found dead in boats after being suffocated, dying of hypothermia or starving while drifting at sea.
Smugglers are pushing more and more boats into the Mediterranean as the weather improves and amid rumours of a crackdown by the Libyan coastguard, which is being bolstered by Italian funding and equipment.
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