UNHCR: 220 migrants drowned off Libya in recent days

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Libyan coast guards workers carry a bag containing the body of a migrant who died when a boat sank off Libya's western coast, are seen in Tripoli, Libya June 18, 2018. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny
Libyan coast guards workers carry a bag containing the body of a migrant who died when a boat sank off Libya’s western coast, are seen in Tripoli, Libya June 18, 2018. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny

Survivors have reported that about 220 migrants drowned off the coast of Libya in the last 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 Libyan coast guard, meanwhile, picked up 762 migrants trying to reach Italy in rubber boats during the past two days alone, its spokesman said.

The North African country is a key departure point for migrants fleeing wars and poverty who are trying to reach Europe, though crossings have dropped sharply since last July due to a more active coast guard presence with support from the European Union.

Only five people survived the capsizing of a boat carrying 100 people on Tuesday, while the same day a rubber craft with 130 passengers sank, leading to 70 people drowning, according to the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR.

On Wednesday, a boat of migrants who were rescued reported that more than 50 people travelling with them had perished at sea, it said.

“UNHCR is dismayed at the ever-growing numbers 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,” the agency said.

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.

Most migrants try to head across the Mediterranean toward Italy, hoping they will be picked up by ships run by aid groups and taken there, although many drown before they are rescued.

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