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UN Chief Calls for Expansion of Legal Migration Routes into Europe

“Deeply saddened” by the loss of hundreds of lives of migrants trying to reach Europe by sea, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has praised the joint rescue operations of Italian and European forces, while calling for “a comprehensive and collective response” as well as “expanded legal pathways” for migrants to enter Europe.

In a statement Tuesday, Ban expressed his grief over the deaths of hundreds of men, women, and children who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in past weeks, and offered his deepest condolences to the families and friends of those who perished.

“While the Secretary-General commends the brave efforts of the joint Italian and European search and rescue operations, he calls on concerned Governments and organizations to redouble their efforts to save those at risk at sea and to counter the migrant smuggling and human trafficking networks in the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas,” said the statement, issued by Ban’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

“The secretary-general notes with great distress that 2016 is proving to be particularly deadly with some 2,510 lives lost, compared to 1,855 in the same period in 2015,” the statement read. Over the course of the year 2015, more than 3,700 migrants died in the Mediterranean, but that figure could easily be surpassed in 2016.

In response, Ban has called for “a comprehensive and collective response to large movements of refugees and migrants, including expanded legal pathways,” said the statement.

According to the UN refugee agency, so far this year, 203,981 people have made the crossing on the Mediterranean. “The odds of being among the dead are currently one in 81,” said William Spindler, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“This highlights the importance of rescue operations as part of the response to the movement of refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean, and the need for real, safer alternatives for people needing international protection,” he said.

The route from North Africa to Italy is proving to be considerably more dangerous than the other Mediterranean routes, with 2,119 of the deaths reported thus far in 2016 resulting among people making that journey, the statement noted.

Of the 46,714 migrants travelling to Italy this year, one in 23 has died.

Last week at least 880 people died attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea into Europe, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter   

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