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Abandoned refugee boat on the Greek island of Lesbos (photo from 2015): Dangerous escape route

Photo: Orestis Panagiotou/dpa

According to the UN refugee agency, 710 migrants died in the eastern Mediterranean last year while trying to reach the EU - or are still missing.

According to UNHCR statistics, the number of victims has doubled compared to the previous year.

The figures only refer to part of the Mediterranean.

EU countries with coasts in the Eastern Mediterranean are the island republic of Cyprus and Greece.

For decades, Greece has been a contact point for people fleeing conflict or poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia and hoping for a better life in Europe.

Migrants are also trying to get past southern Greece directly to Italy.

Other escape routes lead from North Africa across the western Mediterranean towards Spain or from the west coast of Africa across the Atlantic to the Canary Islands.

According to the aid organization Caminando Fronteras, 6,618 people died on the way to Spain in 2023.

According to the information, that is more than twice as many as in 2022 - at that time the organization counted 2,390 deaths.

In addition to the number of drowned and missing people, the number of people who crossed irregularly from the Turkish west coast to Greece - or entered the EU via the Turkish-Greek border - also increased.

According to statistics, it doubled compared to the previous year to around 48,744 people.

Many people seeking protection are still on the run

In the first two weeks of the year, an average of around a hundred people crossed irregularly from Turkey to Greece every day, the UNCHR said.

The Greek coast guard assumes there are a large number of unreported cases.

The route across the Mediterranean is one of the most dangerous escape routes in the world.

In one of the worst incidents of the past year, a boat en route from Libya to Italy with up to 700 people on board sank in international waters off southwest Greece in June.

Only 104 survivors were found and Greek authorities were heavily criticized for failing to evacuate the ship in a timely manner.