Around 500 migrants feared dead as boat sinks off Libya coast


Hundreds of migrants attempting to reach Europe are feared to have drowned when an overcrowded repurposed fishing boat sank off the Libya coast.

According to 41 survivors, up to 500 people were drowned although coastguards have not confirmed this figure, reported the BBC.

The survivors had departed from the eastern Libyan city of Tobruk last week.

Around 500 Africans were intending to reach Italy from eastern Libya.

Approximately 200 migrants left Tobruk on several small boats, with each boat carrying between 30 and 40 people. They were to board a larger vessel, which was overcrowded due to already having around 300 people.

The large vessel began sinking when the newcomers stepped in from smaller boats.

The survivors were rescued by a merchant ship on 16 April.

They were then taken to Kalamata, a port in Greece, and subsequently shifted to Athens, reported The Wall Street Journal, citing accounts given to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organisation for Migration.

The 41 survivors include 37 men, three women and a three-year-old child.

Those rescued include 23 Somalis, 11 Ethiopians, six Egyptians and a Sudanese.

"According to 41 survivors, up to 500 people were drowned although coastguards have not confirmed this figure, reported the BBC."

In October 2013, a shipwreck had killed at least 360 African migrants, following which Italy began a search-and-rescue operation and pulled out thousands of illegal migrants.

According to UNHCR, so far this year 179,552 refugees and migrants have reached Europe by sea across the Mediterranean and Aegean. At least 761 have died or gone missing while attempting the journey.

UNHCR has called for increased regular pathways for the admission of refugees and asylum-seekers to Europe, including resettlement and humanitarian admission programmes, family reunification, private sponsorship and student and work visas for refugees.

According to the agency, these will serve to reduce the demand for people smuggling and dangerous irregular sea journeys.

Image: A boat carrying refugees and migrants drifts on the Mediterranean Sea shortly before rescue by the Italian Navy in 2014. Photo: courtesy of Italian Navy / Massimo Sestini.