Rescued migrants sit in a coastguard point in Khoms, some 100km from Tripoli, on Tuesday. Agence France-Presse
About 40 people are feared dead or missing after the latest wreck of a boat carrying migrants bound for Europe off the coast of Libya, while about 60 people may have been rescued, the UN refugee agency said on Tuesday.
“Terrible news coming in of potentially large loss of life in a shipwreck off the coast of Libya,” UNHCR spokesman Charlie Yaxley said in a tweet, adding that details were still sketchy.
“Around 60 people have been rescued and returned to shore. At least 40 people are estimated to be dead or missing.”
Libyan coastguard spokesman Ayoub Qassem said the bodies of five migrants had been recovered and 65 migrants had been rescued about 9 miles off the coast of the city of Khoms.
Three of those found dead were from Morocco, one was from Sudan and one from Somalia, Qassem said.
UNHCR said most survivors were from Sudan, with others from Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia.
Unseaworthy vessels overloaded with migrants trying to reach Italy regularly capsize off Libya.
Last week more than 100 people died, and a boat with about 250 capsized last month.
Thousands of people have died every year in the central Mediterranean, among the hundreds of thousands attempting the crossing from North Africa to Europe in recent years.
The number making the voyage declined sharply from mid-2017 after European-backed efforts to disrupt smuggling networks in Libya.
As of last week, nearly 5,400 migrants had been intercepted or rescued at sea by the Libyan coastguard so far this year, UNHCR reported.
According to Italy’s interior ministry, 4,862 migrants have landed on Italian shores since Jan.1.
Meanwhile, the body of an Iraqi migrant who tried to swim across the Channel from France to Britain has been found off Belgium’s coast, Belgian authorities said late on Monday.
The 48-year-old was discovered on Friday near the seaside resort of Zeebrugge, wearing a makeshift life jacket made of empty plastic bottles and carrying a small bag with his identity papers, the prosecutor’s office in Bruges said.
“It’s the first time we’ve found the body of a migrant,” Carl Decaluwe, the governor of western Flanders province where Zeebrugge is located, told reporters.
Officials believe the man drowned while trying to swim from a beach in northern France to Britain. Currents are thought to have transported his body to Belgian waters.
He was found drifting near a wind farm some 30 kilometres off Zeebrugge, the Belgian news agency Belga reported.
He had attempted the swim after failing to obtain asylum in Germany, according to the agency.
Eight days before the Iraqi’s body was found, a Belgian sailor had spotted a man wearing a belt made of empty plastic bottles crying for help in waters off the French coast of Dunkirk.
The sailor had informed French maritime authorities of the Aug.18 incident, saying he had tried to save the man, but he was swept away by a current.
Separately, Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini on Tuesday refused to allow a ship carrying dozens of migrants to enter Italian waters, the latest in a string of standoffs over migrant rescues.
The Eleonore, run by German charity Mission Lifeline, is seeking a safe port after rescuing some 100 people from a collapsing dinghy in the Mediterranean on Monday.
Charity workers rescued the migrants after a run-in with the Libyan coast guard, which wanted to take them back to the crisis-hit north African country.
Italy and Malta have both repeatedly refused to allow charity vessels to dock until other European countries agree to help take them in.
Six EU countries last week agreed to take in 356 migrants stranded on the Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking ship in the Mediterranean after two weeks of deadlock.
Charities have blasted what they say is a lack of coordination and solidarity among EU member states in dealing with migration in recent years, with tens of thousands of people making the perilous trip to Europe across the Mediterranean.
Italy’s anti-immigration stance has largely been fuelled by outgoing, far-right Interior Minister Salvini.
The ban on the Eleonore entering Italian waters may be one of the last he issues.