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“This is the worst we have ever seen,” UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler told reporters on Tuesday in Geneva.
While the number of refugees attempting the journey has markedly declined – an estimated 327,800 asylum-seekers have crossed the sea so far this year, compared with at least 1,015,078 people last year – more people survive the choppy waters than ever before.
This is partly due to the closure of the Turkey-EU route, as Ankara tightened border and maritime controls.
However, smugglers are looking towards Libyan shores to relocate their industry.
Spindler said that the route is now seeing the “mass embarkations of thousands of people”.
The UNHCR report comes as French authorities forcibly shut down and cleared a refugee camp near the port of Calais.
Thousands of refugees who had made a home of the camp – known as the jungle – were relocated to 450 reception centers where they will have an opportunity to formally apply for refugee status.
But some human rights groups have said they fear for the fate of hundreds of unaccompanied minors who were seen milling around the former camp following fires which destroyed many of the dwellings there.
UNHCR chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein had previously condemned Europe’s treatment of migrant refugees particular in regards to detention of children and minors.
“Even unaccompanied children are frequently placed in prison cells or centers ringed with barbed wire,” Hussein told the UN Human Rights Council during its forum in Geneva earlier this summer.
“Detention is never in the best interests of the child – which must take primacy over immigration objectives,” he added, urging that alternatives must be explored.
He also lambasted the rise in anti-refugee rhetoric which is leading to xenophobia, Islamophobia and even violence targeting those fleeing wars and strife in the Middle East.
The UN, which says that about 1.15 million refugees have come through Greece and Italy since the start of 2015, has warned that children are the most vulnerable to trauma as a result of the perilous voyage across the Mediterranean and subsequent detainment.
The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies