Dozens of migrants dead as boat capsizes off Egypt

It comes months after the EU’s border agency Frontex warned growing numbers of migrants bound for Europe were turning to Egypt as a departure point for the perilous sea journey.

People gather along the shore of the Mediterranean Sea during a search for victims after a migrant boat capsized, in Al Beheira, Egypt, September 21, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer
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CAIRO // Forty two people drowned when a boat carrying migrants capsized off the coast of Egypt on Wednesday.

Another 150 were rescued by search and rescue teams.

Rescuers were looking for more survivors after the tragedy, which took place off the Mediterranean port city of ­Rosetta, police officials said.

The incident came months ­after the EU border agency, Frontex, said that growing number of migrants bound for Europe were turning to Egypt as a departure point for the dangerous sea journey.

Smugglers often overload the boats, some of them scarcely seaworthy, with passengers who have paid for the journey.

The health ministry said 30 bodies had been recovered and hospitals were being prepared to receive more casualties.

More than 10,000 people have died attempting to cross the Mediterranean for Europe since 2014, according to the United Nations.

Asylum seekers have been looking for other ways to reach Europe since March, when Balkan countries closed the popular overland route and the EU agreed a deal with Turkey to halt departures.

“Egypt is starting to become a departure country,” Frontex chief Fabrice Leggeri said in June.

“The number of boat crossings from Egypt to Italy has reached 1,000 so far this year.”

More than 300,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year from various points of departure, the UN said this week. The number is down from 520,000 in the first nine months of last year.

Despite the lower numbers attempting the dangerous sea crossing, fatality rates had risen, with 2016 on track to be “the deadliest year on record in the Mediterranean Sea,” said the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).

In June, a boat capsized near Sicily, drowning at least 169 migrants.

Earlier that month, a boat carrying hundreds of migrants sank off the Greek island of Crete, and the bodies of 104 migrants were washed up on a beach in Libya.

Different patterns have emerged in the two European countries, Greece and Italy, which have received the vast ­majority of migrants.

Arrivals in Italy this year stood at 130,411, on a par with the 132,000 people who landed over the same period last year, said the UNHCR.

But Greece has had 165,750 migrants and refugees land on its shores this year, a 57 per cent drop against last year’s figures.

Arrivals began falling after a March deal between the European Union and Turkey on curbing migrant flows across the Mediterranean.

The European Union launched Operation Sophia last year to ­destroy smuggler boats that could be used to ferry migrants across the sea.

An EU official said this month that almost 300 smuggler boats had been put out of commission in the past year.

The official, who did not want to be identified, said the migrants on the seized vessels were all transferred to the nearest safe ports and would be considered for asylum as refugees.

* Agence France-Presse