ADDIS ABEBA – About 150 migrants and refugees are feared drowned after the boats they were traveling in capsized off Libya’s coast in the Mediterranean Sea, aid agencies said on Thursday.
Ayoub Qasim, a spokesman for Libya’s coast guard, told The Associated Press that two boats carrying around 300 migrants sank around 120km east of the capital, Tripoli, before adding that 134 migrants and refugees were rescued.
However, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said in a Twitter post on Thursday that more than 150 people were feared drowned while 145, most of them Eritrean and Sudanese, were rescued and taken to offshore.
Some reports say Ethiopians are also among the survivors.
“I am horrified by reports that about 150 people died in a shipwreck off the coast of Libya,” said António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations.
“We need safe, legal routes for migrants and refugees,” he said. “Every migrant searching for a better life deserves safety and dignity”.
Some of the survivors shared their ordeal at the sea.
“In the afternoon, we started from Libya going to Italy, but when we went there, after one hour the ship started to sink and most of them (migrants) sank,” an unnamed survivor from Eritrea told the Associated Press news agency.
Another survivor from Eritrea added: “We rescued ourselves. No-one could help us and no one came to rescue us, and here we are in a big problem so we need your (International community) help.”
The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) spokesman Charlie Yaxley said the survivors were picked up by local fishermen and then taken back to shore by the Libyan coastguard.
“We estimate that 150 migrants are potentially missing and died at sea,” he said. “The dead include women and children.”
Libya is one of the main departure points for migrants and refugees fleeing poverty and war in the Middle East and Africa and attempting to reach Europe by boat via the Mediterranean.
Those who make the journey often travel in overcrowded and unsafe vessels.
Nearly 700 deaths have been recorded in the Mediterranean so far this year, according to the IOM, almost half as many as the 1,425 registered in 2018.
An estimated 6,000 refugees and migrants are held in detention centers across Libya, while some 50,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers reside elsewhere in the country, according to the UNHCR. – EM/AJ/agencies
Photo caption: Nearly 700 deaths have been recorded in the Mediterranean so far this year, according to the UN [File/AP]