World

Over 110 migrants missing after boat capsizes in Mediterranean

Libyan coast guards rescued another 132 people in one of the worst Mediterranean incidents this year

Posted: July 25, 2019
Last Updated: July 25, 2019

Migrants are seen rescued by the Libyan coast guard after their wooden boat capsized off the coast of Khoms, a town east of Libya's capital, Tripoli, on Thursday. However, more than 100 people remain missing, and are feared dead. (Ismail Zetouni/Reuters)

About 115 people are missing and feared to have drowned and another 134 were rescued by Libyan coast guards and local fishermen after a wooden boat carrying migrants capsized off Libya, a Libyan navy official said on Thursday.

Earlier, the UN refugee agency UNHCR said that up to 150 people were feared dead.

There were about 250 people on board, mainly from Eritrea and other sub-Saharan Africa and Arab countries, when the boat capsized off the coast near Khoms, east of the capital Tripoli, Libyan navy spokesperson Ayoub Qassem said.

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Libya is a hub for migrants and refugees, many of whom try to reach Europe in unseaworthy boats.

The latest shipwreck takes the death toll of Mediterranean migrants to more than 600 this year, putting 2019 on track to be the sixth year in a row with more than 1,000 deaths, UNHCR spokesperson Charlie Yaxley said.

People from Eritrea, sub-Saharan Africa and Arab countries were on the vessel when it capsized off the coast of Libya, near the city of Khoms. (CBC)

"Until we address the reasons why people take these dangerous boat journeys, sadly, this is unlikely to be the last tragedy like this that we see," he said.

Yaxley said survivors of the wreck were likely to be brought to two detention centres in Libya where they would face further risks, and he called for their immediate release.

"We know that inside these detention centres there's insufficient food, water, often unsanitary conditions, there have been widespread reports of human rights violations taking place," he said.

Migrants are seen with their belongings at the yard of a detention centre in the Tajoura suburb of Tripoli, Libya, in the aftermath of an airstrike in early July. (Ismail Zitouny/Reuters)

Libya says the migrants are illegally entering and leaving the country. It regularly detains them in centres that the UN says are effectively jails, exposing them to the added risk of being caught up in the country's civil war.

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One detention centre in Tripoli was hit by an airstrike earlier this month, killing more than 50 people. UNHCR subsequently said it had been closed, but rescued migrants have continued to be sent there.

Human rights activists have accused politicians in the European Union of turning a blind eye and letting people die rather than risk a voter backlash by appearing soft on immigration. Europe struggled to cope with an influx of more than one million refugees and migrants in 2015.

Italy, many African migrants' intended first destination, has taken a tough line since a populist government took office in 2018, and immediately sought to close the nation's ports to rescued migrants.