More than 2,500 people have died trying to cross Mediterranean this year - UN

UNHCR says 2016 is "proving to be particularly deadly" for migrants and refugees attempting to reach Europe

Mediterranean, crossing, migration, refugee, migrants, europe, deaths, 2016. UNHCR

File photo dated 21/08/15 of migrants, some swimming and some paddling a rubber dinghy, approaching the beach at Psalidi on the Greek island of Kos. Image: Jonathan Brady / PA Wire/Press Association Images

More than 2,500 migrants and refugees have died trying to cross the Mediterranean so far this year, the UN's refugee agency has said.

The UNHCR said 2016 is "proving to be particularly deadly", as it revealed at least 880 people died trying to cross the sea in the last week alone after vessels capsized or were shipwrecked.

The figure for 2016 so far compares to 1,855 in the same period last year.

"At the moment (smugglers) are packing people on boats that are barely sea-worthy and many cases are not meant to make the crossing," UNHCR spokesman William Spindler said.

"What happens is as soon as they depart from shore they call for rescuers and then rescue services come and rescue them.

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

On Saturday, the Italian coastguard coordinated the rescue of a total of 668 people trying to cross the Mediterranean.

The rescues took place in the Sicily Channel off the Libyan coast and were carried out by various ships from the Italian navy, the European Union Naval Force in the Mediterranean and the Irish navy.

The updated figures from the UNHCR come after the agency interviewed survivors brought to Italy.

Authorities and international organisations had previously reported that some 700 migrants and refugees had died in shipwrecks over three days last week, the highest known tally in more than a year.

Mr Spindler also repeated the UNHCR's appeal to the European Union to allow for more legal means for refugees to reach Europe, and said it was shameful the bloc had resettled fewer than 2,000 people under a plan revealed last year to resettle 160,000.

The rescues took place in the Sicily Channel off the Libyan coast and were carried out by various ships from the Italian navy, the European Union Naval Force in the Mediterranean and the Irish navy.

As many as 40,000 people have tired to cross the Mediterranean into mainland Europe so far this year.

The number of attempted crossings is increasing with favourable weather conditions and calm seas.