(TELESUR) – About 40 people are missing and feared drowned after a boat carrying migrants bound for Europe capsized off the coast of Libya, while about 60 people may have been rescued, the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) said 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 people had been recovered and 65 migrants had been rescued about 15 km 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 added. 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 Mediterranean, among the hundreds of thousands attempting the crossing from North Africa to Europe in recent years.
Libya regularly detains them in centers that the U.N. says are effectively jails, exposing them to the added risk of being caught up in the country’s civil war. One detention center in Tripoli was hit by an airstrike last 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 migration. 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 right-wing government took office in 2018, and immediately sought to close the nation’s ports to rescued migrants.