150 Migrants Feared Dead In Mediterranean's Worst Loss Of Life This Year

Jul 26, 2019
Originally published on August 8, 2019 8:41 am

As many as 150 refugees are believed dead after their wooden boat that had been bound for Europe capsized off Libya's coast. According to the United Nations, it's the worst loss of life this year in Mediterranean.

On Wednesday night, the boat departed from Al Khoms, Libya, about 75 miles east of the capital, Tripoli. It sank on Thursday, five miles from Libya's coast.

Aid organizations believe 250-300 people may have been on the boat. The U.N.'s International Organization for Migration says it has confirmed 30 deaths, and that up to 120 more people may have drowned.

The boat's engine reportedly failed, and then it capsized, the U.N. says. Local fishermen began rescue efforts; they were later assisted by the Libyan Coast Guard.

"It was one large wooden boat, a vessel unseaworthy for the job at hand," U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Spokesperson Charlie Yaxley told NPR.

Around 145 people have been rescued; many of them have an Eritrean or Sudanese background, according to the IOM. The survivors also include one Palestinian and one Bangladeshi refugee.

It's the latest migrant tragedy to happen in the Mediterranean in 2019.

"This route has been extremely deadly all year," IOM Spokesperson Joel Millman told NPR.

In May, 65 migrants leaving from Libya died after their boat capsized in the Mediterranean near Tunisia.

"The journeys are becoming increasingly dangerous," Yaxley says. "For 2019, one person has died on the route from Libya to Europe for every six that have reached European shores. Our death rate is rising alarmingly."

Though the number of refugees crossing the Mediterranean has declined this year, the IOM has confirmed nearly 700 deaths on the Mediterranean so far in 2019.

The decrease in migrants crossing the Mediterranean is primarily due to new policies from Italy's hard-right, anti-immigration government. With the EU's backing, Italy struck a deal with Libyan authorities to curtail migrants leaving from Libya by turning back boats and returning migrants to detention centers.

And last month, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini issued a decree that forbids NGO migrant ships from entering Italy's ports.

The U.N. is urging all countries involved to prevent the transfer of survivors to detention centers, which have been found to expose migrants to human rights abuses.

Earlier this month, an airstrike at the Tajoura Detention Center near Tripoli killed over 50 people.

Humanitarian agencies reported that 84 survivors of this week's shipwreck were transferred to the Tajoura facility. The IOM's Libya Branch, however, says the survivors were not accepted at Tajoura and are now being "released gradually."

Josh Axelrod is the NPR Digital Content intern.

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