The Latest: Over 1,500 die in Mediterranean so far this year
THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) — The Latest on immigration into Europe (all times local):
U.N. officials say more than 1,500 migrants have died trying to cross the Mediterranean in the first seven months of the year as smugglers turn to ever more unseaworthy vessels.
The office of the High Commissioner for Refugees says more than 850 people perished in June and July alone — about one in every 31 people trying to cross in those months, compared to 1 in 49 for all of last year.
The deaths come even though the number of people arriving by sea in Europe has fallen to about 60,000 so far this year — about half the number for the same period last year.
UNHCR special envoy Vincent Cochetel said the agency “urges states and authorities along transit routes to take all necessary action to dismantle and disrupt smuggler networks.”
Spain is setting up a central operational command for migrant management amid a summer surge in arrivals from North Africa, which is placing a strain on public services.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced Friday that the unit will coordinate Spain’s response to the thousands of migrants arriving each month.
Sanchez says his government is in talks with Morocco, from where traffickers take the migrants across the Mediterranean, and the migrants’ countries of origin.
The United Nations Migration Agency says in the first five months of this year 8,150 migrants were rescued in Spanish waters. But since the end of May, almost 15,000 have been saved from boats — more than 240 people a day as Spain surpassed Italy as the main EU destination for migrants coming by sea.
Greek police say they have arrested eight migrants on suspicion of the murder of a Pakistani man trying to leave the country illegally.
Police said Friday the eight were suspected of involvement in the July 23 stabbing death of a 29-year-old Pakistani man who had been with three compatriots heading toward Greece’s northern border with Macedonia.
The eight — six Afghans and two Pakistanis — allegedly robbed the four near the border, stabbing the 29-year-old in the process. His body was discovered the following day near a railway track.
Hundreds of migrants arrive in Greece each week from nearby Turkey. With routes out of the country officially closed to them, many try to head further into Europe from unguarded parts of Greece’s northern border.