Geneva, Oct 18 (IANS/AKI) Ahead of this weeks meeting of European Union heads of state and government, the United Nations called on European leaders to urgently address this years record rate of drownings in the Mediterranean Sea.
With more than 1,700 lives lost since the start of 2018, the rate at which people are perishing while trying to cross the Mediterranean - the world's most perilous waterway - has risen sharply this year.
In September alone, one person died or went missing for every 8 people who crossed to Europe from Libya, largely due to reduced search and rescue capacity, according to the UN.
"Arrival numbers are falling but the rate at which people are losing their lives is on the rise," said Filippo Grandi, chief of the UN refugee agency UNHCR.
The two UN agencies voiced concern over the "dangerously toxic" political rhetoric on refugees and migrants being touted in some countries even as arrivals to Europe have plunged since last year.
"The current tenor of the political debate Â– painting a picture of Europe under siege Â– is not only unhelpful but completely out of touch with reality," said Grandi. "Debate is welcome Â– scapegoating refugees and migrants for political gain is not," he said.
The current political climate is stoking groundless fears and hampering progress towards solutions by making it harder for countries to work together, according to Grandi and International Organisation for Migration boss Antonio Vitorino.
"Perilous irregular migration is in no one's interest," said Vitorino.
"Together we must invest more in regular migration, enhanced mobility and integration to foster growth and development that benefits both sides of the Mediterranean."
Besides strengthening search and rescue capacity, UNHCR and IOM said they have proposed "a workable regional arrangement" that would make disembarkation and processing predictable and swift.
"At the same time we welcome strides taken to date by some EU Member States towards responsibility-sharing," the agencies stated.
UNHCR and IOM urged European leaders to focus this week's summit discussions "on the practical solutions that are urgently needed and ensuring responsibilities are properly being shared among European States."