UNHCR: Deadly week in Mediterranean as smugglers pack boats

This year is proving to be particularly deadly with 2,510 lives lost in shipwrecks and capsising.

A video grab released by the Italian Coast Guards on 23 August 2015 shows migrants waiting on an overcrowded boat being helped during a rescue operation off the coast of Libya as part of the Frontex-coordinated Operation Triton. Picture: AFP

NEW YORK - At least 880 migrants and refugees died trying to cross the Mediterranean last week, the United Nations Refugee Agency said on Tuesday, giving updated figures after interviewing survivors brought to Italy.

This year is "proving to be particularly deadly" with 2,510 lives lost in shipwrecks and capsizing, against 1,855 in the same period in 2015, UNHCR spokesman William Spindler said.

"At the moment [smugglers] are packing people on boats that are barely sea-worthy and many cases are not meant to make the crossing. What happens is as soon as they depart from shore they call for rescuers and then rescue services come and rescue them," Spindler told a news briefing.

"It's a race against time to get there before the boats sink, in some cases it gets there too late."