Seeking to take advantage of calmer seasonal waters, more migrants from Africa are trying to cross to Europe from Libya in recent weeks — and more than 100 are believed to have drowned when three boats sank in the Mediterranean.
Libyan officials said Sunday that at least 36 migrants died and 42 remained missing after the boat in which they were traveling capsized May 6 off the Libyan coast, 30 miles east of Tripoli.
An official said that the hull of the boat gave way shortly after it left the beach because of the crush of people on board. Passengers were said to have come from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Gambia, Mali and Senegal.
A United Nations official said Sunday that the Libyan coast guard reported another wreck off the Libyan coast on April 30, in which a Somali survivor reported that 40 fellow passengers had drowned.
On May 2, the Libyan coast guard said it had saved 80 people from a sinking vessel, including Eritreans, Somalis and Ethiopians. Four corpses were found, the report said.
Italy launched a naval operation last October to rescue migrants in Italian and international waters after the deaths of 364 migrants whose vessel caught fire off the Italian island of Lampedusa.
On Friday, the Italian navy said that in the previous week it had picked up 4,362 migrants at sea, bringing the total number transferred to Italy since October to more than 30,000. Many have been sent to Sicily, where reception centers are overflowing.
On Sunday, 380 migrants, mainly Syrians, were also dropped off by an Italian navy vessel at the mainland Italian city of Taranto.
Aid officials have suggested that Libyan traffickers may be forcing migrants onto ever more rickety boats, knowing that Italian navy patrols are ready to save them in international waters.
Migrants, many of whom are asylum seekers, say they are unjustly jailed, beaten and robbed when they arrive in Libya, but interim Interior Minister Salah Mazek said the migrants were bringing disease, crime and drugs to the country.
Kington is a special correspondent.