Geneva: Survivors have reported that about 220 migrants drowned off the coast of Libya in the past few days while trying to reach Europe, putting the death toll this year on that route to more than 1,000, the United Nations said on Thursday.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement it was “shocked” by the deaths and called for urgent action to reduce the continuing loss of life.
“UNHCR is dismayed by the ever-growing number of refugees and migrants losing their lives at sea and is calling for urgent international action to strengthen rescue at sea efforts by all relevant and capable actors, including NGOs and commercial vessels, throughout the Mediterranean.
“At the same time, access to protection in countries of the first asylum should be ensured, as well as alternative pathways for refugees in Libya trying to cross the sea in search of protection and safety. All these steps are crucial to ensure that no more lives are lost at sea,” it said.
According to the UNHCR, around 220 migrants drowned on Tuesday and Wednesday in three separate tragedies.
On Tuesday, a wooden boat carrying an unknown number of refugees and migrants capsized off the coast of Libya.
Of the estimated 100 passengers, only five survived. They were rescued by the Libyan coastguard, UNHCR said on the basis of survivors’ testimony.
On the same day, a rubber dinghy with around 130 people on board sank at a different location off the Libyan coast.
Sixty survivors were rescued by local fishermen, who took them back to shore. Seventy people are believed to have drowned in the incident.
In the third incident on Wednesday, survivors reported that more than 50 people travelling with them perished before the Libyan coastguard mounted a rescue.
Libya’s coast guard picked up 680 African migrants on Thursday alone from at least five inflatable boats near its western coast, a spokesman said.