Cairo — Up to 150 Europe-bound migrants, including women and children, were missing and feared drowned on Thursday after the boats they were traveling in capsized in the Mediterranean Sea off Libya, the country’s coast guard and the U.N. refugee agency said. A top U.N. official described the shipwreck as “the worst Mediterranean tragedy” so far this year.
The International Rescue Committee said the tragedy was a stark reminder of the humanitarian crisis emerging out of Libya and of the urgent need for search and rescue missions to be resumed in the Mediterranean.Ayoub Gassim, a spokesman for Libya’s coast guard, told The Associated Press that two boats carrying around 300 migrants capsized around 75 miles east of the capital, Tripoli.
Around 137 migrants were rescued and returned to Libya, he said, and the coast guard has recovered just one body so far.Charlie Yaxley, a spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency, said 147 had been saved.”We estimate that 150 migrants are potentially missing and died at sea,” he said. “The dead include women and children.””Worst Mediterranean tragedy of this year”Yaxley added that so far this year, one person has died on the route from Libya to Europe for every six people that reached Europe shores.”The worst Mediterranean tragedy of this year has just occurred,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.In January, some 117 died or went missing off Libya’s coast and around 65 people drowned after their boat sank off the coast of Tunisia in May.Grandi called on European nations to resume rescue missions in the Mediterranean, halted after an EU decision, and appealed for an end to migrant detentions in Libya.He said safe pathways out of the North African country are needed “before it is too late for many more desperate people.”