Record Number of Refugees and Migrants Died in the Mediterranean This Winter, UNICEF Says

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A record number of refugees and migrants have died in the Mediterranean this winter, UNICEF announced Friday.

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"At least 1,354 migrants and refugees drowned in the period from November 2016 to the end of January 2017 -- with the majority of deaths occurring on the dangerous Central Mediterranean sea route between Libya and Italy where 1,191 people are reported to have perished," UNICEF said in a news release.

"This is almost 13 times the number of fatalities reported for this route over the same period in 2015 to 2016," the organization added.

         
              
                     
                                        PHOTO: A mother holds her daughter after being rescued at sea off the coast of Libya, Feb. 3, 2017.                                                                        
            
                SLIDESHOW: Sea Rescues Continue as EU Leaders Meet             
        
    
    

An estimated 190 of the migrants and refugees who died this winter were children, according to UNICEF.

"The growing number of children lost at sea underscores the acute danger of the journey from North Africa to Italy, as well as the pressing need for governments on both sides of the Mediterranean to do more to keep them safe," said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth in the news release.

The announcement of the record number of migrant and refugee deaths in the Mediterranean came just before the European Union embraced a plan at a summit in Malta Friday to curb the flow of Libyan migrants to the archipelago country, according to The Associated Press.

More than 1,400 migrants were rescued in the Mediterranean within a 24-hour period, Italy's coast guard said on Thursday, according to international news agency Agence France-Presse.

"A key element of a sustainable migration policy is to ensure effective control of our external border and stem illegal flows into the EU," leaders of the 28 countries declared, The AP reported.

However, the U.N. and other advocacy groups expressed concern about the new EU plan, worrying that Libyan migrants and refugees could be trapped in the country or sent back home to the same suffering they risked their lives to escape, according to The AP.