Wednesday, 24 April, 2019

117 people feared dead as migrant boat sinks off Libya

Migrants rescued in Mediterranean Image Thousands of migrants have attempted to cross the Mediterranean. File pic
Patty Aguilar | 21 January, 2019, 08:02

In 2017, more than 30 asylum seekers - mostly toddlers - drowned after 200 people without life jackets fell from a boat into the sea of the Libyan coast.

"The three survivors told us they were 120 when they left Garabulli, in Libya, on Thursday night", he said.

In the Mediterranean, one dinghy was spotted sinking in rough waters on Friday by an Italian military plane on patrol.

It appears to be the latest tragedy on the risky central Mediterranean route from North Africa to Europe.

Survivors from a rubber dinghy that capsized off Libya fear that more than 100 migrants may have died, a rescue official has said.

"After 10 to 11 hours at sea the boat started sinking and people started drowning", said a spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), adding the passengers included 10 women and two children, one of whom was just two months old.

Since Italy's populist government came to power in June, Salvini, leader of the anti-migrant Northern League party, has closed Italian ports to humanitarian vessels.

The survivors said the migrants aboard the dinghy did not have any.

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"There are 117 people dying or missing", head of the Sea Watch Mission, Kim Heaton-Heather said.

Three people suffering severe hypothermia were pulled from the waters by a helicopter, and are being treated on the island of Lampedusa, he said.

Many migrants can not afford to pay for life vests, an extra cost when boarding a smuggler's boat in Libya.

Sea-Watch said news of the migrants' plight was relayed by another aid group, Alarmphone, which promotes and operates a telephone hotline for use by people in distress at sea.

The navy alerted Libyan authorities who coordinated rescue operations, ordering a merchant ship to rush to where the dinghy had sunk - although rescue efforts proved fruitless.

Last year, 2,262 people lost their lives trying to reach Europe across the Mediterranean, according to the UNHCR. Over the a year ago, it has seen a reduction in the number of large-scale disasters - in part because smugglers have been using smaller boats for those trying to reach the continent. In a statement from its Geneva headquarters, it said in addition to those missing off Libya, 53 people died in recent days in the western Mediterranean, where one survivor was rescued by a fishing boat after being stranded for more than 24 hours at sea.

The governments of Malta and Italy have been refusing to allow private boats rescuing migrants to dock.

Quoting Alarmphone, Sea-Watch had said earlier that the migrant vessel reported navigational problems and that a child among them was "unconscious or deceased".

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