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Shipwrecks in Mediterranean killed 880 refugees last week: UN

This handout photo, released by German humanitarian NGO Sea-Watch, shows a Sea-Watch crew member holding a drowned baby as dead bodies were recovered after a wooden boat transporting refugees capsized off the Libyan coast on May 27, 2016. (Via AFP)

The United Nations (UN) refugee agency says at least 880 asylum-seekers died in recent incidents trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe.

A series of shipwrecks last week in the Mediterranean now appear to have claimed at least 880 lives, according to new information obtained through interviews with survivors in Italy, said William Spindler, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), on Tuesday.

This year is “proving to be particularly deadly,” with 2,510 lives lost in shipwrecks, compared to the 1,855 fatalities in the same period in 2015, he said.

“At the moment, [smugglers] are packing people on boats that are barely sea-worthy and many cases are not meant to make the crossing. What happens is, as soon as they depart from shore, they call for rescuers and then rescue services come and rescue them,” Spindler added.

This photo, taken on May 24, 2016, shows refugees and rescuers during an operation in the Mediterranean Sea. (By AFP)

“It’s a race against time to get there before the boats sink, in some cases it (the rescue team) gets there too late,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Italy’s Coastguard said it had recovered the bodies of 45 people who had drowned on Friday, while dozens of others were still missing in a major tragedy in the Mediterranean. Children and women are said to be among the dead.

According to the UNHCR, so far this year, 203,981 people have made the journey to Europe.

Europe is facing an unprecedented influx of refugees, most of whom are fleeing conflict zones in Africa and the Middle East, particularly Syria.

Many blame major European powers for the unprecedented exodus, saying their policies have led to a surge in terrorism and war in those regions, forcing more people to flee their homes.

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