ROME, Oct. 26 (Xinhua) -- Italy will get more aid in dealing with the ongoing refugee and asylum seeker crisis, the chief of EU border agency Frontex told a press conference in Rome on Wednesday.
Italy is on the front lines of the exodus of people fleeing war and persecution in their homelands in Africa and the Middle East and will remain so for some time, Frontex Director Fabrice Leggeri said, as a rescue ship operated by medical NGO Doctors Without Borders (MSF) headed to Italy with 200 asylum seekers and 25 bodies.
The victims were on a dinghy that ran into trouble some 26 miles off the Libya coast. MSF's Bourbon Argos ship picked up 107 survivors and 139 more from a migrant vessel in the same area.
Also on Wednesday, the United Nations refugee agency said this has been the deadliest year to date for asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean towards Italy, whose outlying islands are the first landfall for those fleeing from the coasts of northern Africa.
"We can now confirm that at least 3,800 people have died, making 2016 the deadliest ever," UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler tweeted earlier in the day.
The refugees risk their lives to make the crossing, packed into unseaworthy boats by unscrupulous people traffickers who exact exorbitant fees from each "passenger". They are given neither food nor water nor enough fuel, Leggeri explained.
The vessels are more and more decrepit, making it impossible for them to reach the Italian coast," he said.
"On average, out of five vessels used by traffickers in the central Mediterranean, four were bad quality rubber dinghies, while the number of people packed onto these unseaworthy boats has grown by a third," according to Leggeri.
This explains the increased mortality on the Mediterranean route, which is now the main one after a crackdown on the route to Greece through Turkey following an agreement with the EU.
A total of 3,771 died in the crossing in 2015, out of over one million who made the attempt.
This year, a total of 327,800 people have taken to the sea so far, but the mortality rate has risen from one in 269 last year to one in 88 this year. This figure is even higher in the central Mediterranean, where the tally is one death per every 47 arrivals.
The key to the problem, said the Frontex chief, is Libya.
"I don't think arrivals can diminish without that country being stabilized,"he said.
"We must improve our support for Italy, which is on the front lines," he said.
"The agency has new tools and resources thanks to an expanded mandate," he said, adding "We will use them."
This support could translate into more ships and men for the patrol and rescue mission, but also into more help in repatriating undocumented migrants who don't have a right to asylum.
Italy has repatriated 12,406 such migrants this year so far but they should be a lot more, according to Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, who called on the European Union to do more to relocate refugees away from the country of first arrival in the Union, i.e. Italy, and to repatriate those who can't stay.
He also urged the EU to use international aid funding as a tool of persuasion.
"We say to the African countries (of origin) that if they won't help us keep people from leaving, we will suspend the aid money," Alfano said.