Up to 150 irregular migrants feared dead in “the worst Mediterranean tragedy of this year”

Up to 150 irregular migrants are missing or feared dead in the worst Mediterranean tragedy of this year.

“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 (people) sank,” an unnamed survivor from Eritrea told The Associated Press (AP).

The migrants were crossing the Mediterranean Sea from Libya towards Italy. A spokesman for the Libyan coastguard, Ayoub Qasim, told the AP that two boats carrying around 300 people sank about 120km from the capital Tripoli.

Aid agencies said 145 people were rescued in the incident and returned to Libya. The survivors were first spotted and picked up by local fishermen, and then taken to shore by the coastguard.

“The worst Mediterranean tragedy of this year has just occurred,” said Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Most of those rescued at sea were from Ethiopia, while others were from the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Sudan. In an interview with the Reuters news agency, a Sudanese survivor, Sabah Youssef, said, “I don’t want anything now except to go back to my country, Sudan, to die there.” She lost her seven-year-old child when the boat sank.

Libya is one of the main departure points for irregular migrants attempting to reach Europe by boat across the Mediterranean Sea. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), nearly 700 deaths have been recorded so far. “If current trends for this year continue, that will see us pass more than 1,000 deaths in the Mediterranean for the sixth year in a row,” said Charlie Yaxley, a spokesperson for the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.

UNHCR estimates that about 6,000 irregular migrants are currently held in detention centres in Libya. About 50,000 other registered refugees and asylum seekers reside across the country.

TMP – 02/08/2019

Photo Credit: AlejandroCarnicero / Shutterstock.com

Photo Caption: A rubber small boat full of irregular migrants in the Mediterranean Sea near Libya on 3 March 2019.