More than 150 of refugees and migrants were missing and feared drowned after two boats capsized off Libya’s coast in the Mediterranean Sea on Thursday, the United Nations’ refugee agency reported.
The boats capsized off the coast of the city of Khoms, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Tripoli. The unfortunate incident is being described as the deadliest migrant disaster in the Mediterranean this year.
“We estimate that 150 migrants are potentially missing and died at sea,” Charlie Yaxley, spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), said, reported Yahoo News. “The dead include women and children.”
The spokesman said the remaining 147 people were rescued and returned to Libya. He said the survivors were picked up by local fishermen and then taken back to shore by the Libyan coastguard. Most of the rescued from the sea were from Ethiopia while others were Palestinians and Sudanese.
“The worst Mediterranean tragedy of this year has just occurred,” Filippo Grandi, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, noted on Twitter.
Grandi called on European nations to resume rescue missions in the Mediterranean, halted after an EU decision, and appealed for an end to migrant detentions in Libya. He added that migrants must be given safe pathways out of Libya before it is too late for many more desperate people.
UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said the migrants rescued from Thursday’s shipwreck now face an uncertain fate as they are returned to detention in Libya, where violent clashes between Khalifa Hafter-led Libyan National Army (LNA) and forces loyal to the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli has made the situation increasingly desperate and dangerous.
The incident took place only a few weeks after some 68 migrants died when an Italy-bound boat sank off Tunisia. The boat, which was filled with mostly African migrants, tipped over shortly after setting out from the Libyan town of Zuwara, west of Tripoli, with the aim of reaching Italy.