'Worst Mediterranean tragedy this year' with 100 feared dead as migrant boat sinks off Libya

'Worst Mediterranean tragedy this year' with 100 feared dead as migrant boat sinks off Libya

The UN says some 150 migrants may have drowned in the Mediterranean after one or more boats capsized, days after NGOs pledged to restart rescue missions hampered by European restrictions.
2 min read
25 July, 2019
Migrant rescue ship missions have been hampered by strict European restrictions [Getty]
Scores of Europe-bound migrants are missing and thought to have drowned at sea after the rubber boats they were traveling in capsized in the Mediterranean Sea, according the Libyan coastguard.

Spokesperson Ayoub Gassim says they rescued around 125 migrants on Thursday. The UN refugee agency says up to 150 may have perished at sea.

Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for the agency said on Twitter: "The worst Mediterranean tragedy of this year has just occurred."

Libya has become a major conduit for African migrants and refugees fleeing to Europe due to the trafficking networks and militant groups that flourished in the civil war following the overthrow of dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Recent efforts by European countries to refuse migrants entry at their ports have left migrants stranded on NGO-run rescue ships for weeks at a time, further imperiling the highly dangerous journey.

The International Organisation for Migration have confirmed at least 426 people have died trying to cross the central Mediterranean this year, excluding those feared dead in Thursday’s incident.

Humanitarian group SOS Mediterranee said Sunday it was relaunching rescue efforts off Libya seven months after it abandoned operations due to difficulties caused by EU states’ restrictions.

However since mid-2017, numbers of migrants risking the dangerous journey dropped dramatically after Italy struck a deal with the Libyan coastguard, in which it agreed to stop migrants from setting sail and to return them to Libyan shores if found at sea.

The policy has been criticised by human rights groups, citing the abhorrent conditions of migrant detention centres in Libya.

Agencies contributed to this report.