Up to 150 people feared dead after migrant boat capsizes off Libyan coast
Up to 150 people are missing and feared drowned after two migrant boats capsized while attempting to cross the Mediterranean from Libya to Europe on Thursday (local time).
If confirmed, it would be the highest number of deaths from a maritime incident in the Mediterranean this year.
Ayoub Gassin, a spokesperson for Libya’s coastguard, told the Associated Press two boats carrying around 300 people capsized about 75 miles (120km) east of the capital, Tripoli.
Around 137 people have been rescued and returned to Libya, he said.
The coastguard had recovered one body, so far.
Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said on Twitter that it was the “worst Mediterranean tragedy of this year has just occurred.”
A UNHCR spokesperson, Charlie Yaxley, said: “This horrific event highlights once again the dire need for a shift in approach to the Mediterranean situation.
“Urgent action is needed to save lives at sea and prevent people from getting on these boats in the first place by offering safe, legal alternatives.”
He also said: “This tragedy has to now lead to action.”
Judith Sunderland, associate Europe and central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said: “What’s always so horrifying about these relentless tragedies is that they should be preventable.”
UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said the migrants who were saved now “face an uncertain fate as they are returned to detention in Libya, where violence in Tripoli in recent months has made the situation increasingly desperate and dangerous.”
At least 2,500 migrants are detained in centres in and around Tripoli, where forces loyal to Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar are battling militias loosely aligned with a UN-recognised government since April.
More than 200 detainees are still being held at the Tajoura detention centre near the frontlines of fighting between rival Libyan factions, where an airstrike killed more than 50 people earlier this month.
The UN expressed concern for their safety.
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