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U.N. migration agency: 74 drown after boat capsizes near Libya

Life jackets on the beach in Libya
Life jackets litter the beach near the port of Al Khums in Libya on Nov. 12, 2020. Several migrants drowned after their Europe-bound ship broke down off the coast of Libya, the United Nations migration agency said, the latest of at least eight shipwrecks in the central Mediterranean since last month.
( Hussein Ben Mosa / Associated Press)

At least 74 migrants drowned after their Europe-bound ship capsized off the coast of Libya on Thursday, the United Nations migration agency said, in the latest of at least eight shipwrecks in the central Mediterranean since last month.

The boat was carrying more than 120 migrants, including women and children, when it capsized off the coast of the Libyan port of Al Khums, said the International Organization for Migration, or IOM. Only 47 people were rescued by the Libyan coast guard and fishermen and brought to shore.

So far 31 bodies were recovered as the search for victims continued, said the migration agency.

In the years since the 2011 uprising that ousted and killed longtime dictator Moammar Kadafi, war-torn Libya has emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants hoping to get to Europe from Africa and the Middle East. Smugglers often pack desperate families into ill-equipped rubber boats that stall and founder along the perilous central Mediterranean route. At least 20,000 people have died in those waters since 2014, according to the migration agency.

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“The mounting loss of life in the Mediterranean is a manifestation of the inability of states to take decisive action to redeploy much-needed, dedicated search-and-rescue capacity in the deadliest sea crossing in the world,” said Federico Soda, the migration agency’s chief of mission in Libya.

On Tuesday, 13 African migrants, including three women and one child, had drowned in a similar shipwreck off the Libyan coast.

The migration agency said that it had noticed a recent surge in the number of departures from Libyan shores, with more than 780 arrivals in Italy since the beginning of October. More than 11,000 migrants had been intercepted and returned to Libya, where they face the risk of human rights violations and detention, the agency said in a statement.

“IOM maintains that Libya is not a safe port for return and reiterates its call on the international community and the European Union to take urgent and concrete action to end the cycle of return and exploitation,” added the statement.


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