GENEVA - The number of migrants who have reached Italy via Libya has dropped significantly since July, when the European Union reached a deal with Libyan authorities to stem migrant flows, the UN said Thursday.
The EU's decision to help Libya intercept migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean and return them to detention centres was condemned as "inhuman" earlier this month by the United Nations human rights chief, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein.
But a report from the UN refugee agency indicated that the pact has achieved its objective of curbing migrant arrivals in Italy.
"Over the past three months, 21,666 refugees and migrants have crossed the sea to Italy, the lowest number for this period over the last four years," the UNHCR report said.
The report noted that the EU-Libya deal was designed "to reduce irregular crossings to Italy".
International efforts to keep people from leaving Libya have grown increasingly controversial in recent weeks, as evidence has mounted of serious abuses committed against migrants by gang-masters, human traffickers and the Libyan security forces.
Global outrage erupted this week after video footage emerged showing migrants being auctioned off in Libya as slaves.
UNHCR meanwhile reported a slight spike in migrant traffic on the so-called eastern Mediterranean route that connects Turkey and Greece.
"In September, 4,900 refugees and migrants arrived by sea to Greece, the highest in a single month since March 2016", when the EU and Turkey agreed to a cut migrant traffic to Greece.
The agency noted that those who manage to evade coast guards trying to block their bid to reach Europe continue to face a perilous journey at sea.
"Thousands continue to attempt desperate and dangerous journeys to Europe," said UNHCR's Europe chief Pascale Moreau.
"As of 20 November close to 3,000 people are estimated to have died or gone missing at sea and another 57 known to have died along land routes in Europe or at Europe's borders in 2017. The actual numbers are likely to be higher," she added.