More migrants drown off Libya


Survivors reported about 220 migrants drowned off Libya in the last few days while trying to reach Europe, putting the death toll this year on that route to more than 1,000, the United Nations said.

The Libyan coastguard picked up 762 migrants trying to reach Italy in rubber boats during the past two days, its spokesman said.

The North African country is a key departure point for migrants fleeing wars and poverty, though crossings dropped sharply since last July due to a more active coastguard presence with support from the European Union.

Only five people survived the capsizing of a boat carrying 100 people on Tuesday, while the same day a rubber craft with 130 passengers sank, leading to 70 people drowning, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

On Wednesday, a boat of rescued migrants reported more than 50 people travelling with them died at sea.
“UNHCR is dismayed at ever-growing numbers of refugees and migrants losing their lives at sea and is calling for urgent international action to strengthen rescue at sea efforts by all relevant and capable actors, including NGOs and commercial vessels, throughout the Mediterranean,” the agency said.

Libya’s coastguard picked up 680 African migrants on Thursday from five inflatable boats off its western coast, a spokesman said.
“The coastguard rescued 301 migrants early this morning, including three women and 46 children from 12 different sub-Saharan countries,” spokesman Ayoub Qassem told Reuters.
“The illegal migrants were on board two big rubber boats,” Qassem said. “The engines of the two boats stopped in the middle of sea.”

He later said the coastguard recovered three bodies and rescued 142 illegal migrants some 25 miles off Qarabulli town after their boat floundered.

Qassem added 237 illegal migrants including two children and three women were rescued from two rubber boats off Qarabulli.

On Wednesday, a body was recovered and 82 migrants were rescued off Tripoli’s eastern Tajoura suburb, he said.

Most migrants head across the Mediterranean towards Italy, hoping they will be picked up by ships run by aid groups and taken there, although many drown before they are rescued.

Earlier this month, however, Italy’s anti-immigrant interior minister Matteo Salvini vowed to no longer let charity ships offload rescued migrants in Italy, leaving a ship at sea for several days with more than 600 migrants until Spain offered safe harbour.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will try on Sunday to persuade other EU leaders to agree a common policy on migrants although her chances of winning support from all 28 member states are deemed slim.