A record 5,000 migrants are believed to have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea this year alone, aid agencies have revealed.
The news comes with nearly 100 people feared dead when two overcrowded inflatable dinghies capsized in the Strait of Sicily on Thursday (22 December) after leaving Libya for Italy.
"Those two incidents together appear to be the numbers that would bring this year's total up to over to 5,000 [deaths], which is a new high that we have reported during this crisis," International Organization for Migration (IOM) spokesman Joel Millman told reporters during a briefing in Geneva on Friday.
The Italian coast guard rescued 63 survivors and had recovered eight bodies so far from the two boats, Millman said.
The number of people who died while making the journey across the Mediterranean Sea had reached an initial record in 2014, with the IOM recording 3,279 deaths, and again in 2015, when the number feared dead or missing reached 3,771.
William Spindler, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), linked the "alarming increase" in deaths this year with bad weather, the declining quality of vessels used by smugglers, and their tactics to avoid detection.
"The number of people who have lost their lives on the Mediterranean this year has now passed 5,000," he added. "That means that on average, 14 people have died every single day this year in the Mediterranean trying to find safety or a better life or safety in Europe."
A spokesman for the IOM, Flavio Di Giacomo, had told IBTimes UK last month the problem was compounded by instability and violence in Libya, where human traffickers face little risk of being caught or punished.
IOM figures show 358,403 migrants and refugees had entered Europe by sea in 2016 up to and including 21 December, arriving mostly in Greece and Italy.
The UNHCR urged states to open up more legal pathways for admitting refugees.
Spindler said resettlement programmes, private sponsorship, family reunification and student scholarships would help "so they do not have to resort to dangerous journeys and the use of smugglers".
The director general of the IOM, William Lacy Swing, said in a video message this week his organisation was fighting a "toxic narrative" on migration, which casts a negative light on a phenomenon that was otherwise "historically overwhelmingly positive".
"Those fleeing terrorism are being suspected of terrorism," he said.
He added: "We've got to show some political leadership on the question [of immigration] and help our people to understand that given the demographic imbalance between global north and global south, our societies are going to become much more multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-lingual – but if we aren't preparing our people for that it won't go well."